Mar 10 2012: A View Of The Thames Looking Towards Tower Bridge Showing Bomb Sites (c.1940s)
There’s something hugely compelling about this undated photograph, which at first glance shows a very familiar view along the River Thames, looking towards Tower Bridge, but on slightly closer inspection reveals some very unfamiliar bomb-sites and gutted buildings in the foreground. The photographer is not identified, but it’s presumably an amateur snap taken from a high vantage point in the city at some point after the end of the Second World War, perhaps the later 1940s or early 1950s. Clearly, the damaged sites are no longer entirely raw, with debris having been cleared to reveal remaining low-level walls and foundations, but nor are they, as yet, under any kind of development. It’s an image that particularly resonates as I’ve been re-reading many of the poets of the 1940s, some linked with various strains of British Surrealism and neo-Romanticism, and these are writers whose works have, for many years now, been dismissed as melodramatic, clotted with hysterical, irrational images of ruin and destruction, overly mythologised in their patterning: yet an image like this shows how little, in many respects, such writers actually embellished the nature of the world they found themselves living in. Horizons had burned, ruins were being overgrown by wild flowers and grasses, streets had been re-cast in the image of Pompeii and Dante’s Inferno and the cityscapes that were left behind were full of ruins that looked like the paintings of John Piper and felt like the broken labyrinths conjured in the language of Dylan Thomas. Once these sites were built-over, though, perhaps it was all too easy to forget they’d ever been there.