Black and white towers

After comparing two black and white photos of bridges recently, I’ve looked at other images from my 1940s collection, particularly of structures that are eye-catching in black and white. Again I’ve taken one of my own photos and removed the colour to see if it impresses in a similar way.

On the left is a photo taken in about 1942 of the Beirut clock tower, built in 1934. These days, four new clock faces with Roman numerals have replaced the faces you see here, and the tower is no longer encircled by concrete, but flower beds. It was a sunny day, judging by the strong shadow of the clock tower, so the sky must have been blue.

On the right is an image of the National Carillon in Canberra which I took last year. A carillon is a pitched percussion instrument played with a keyboard, in a tower. This one consists of 57 cast bronze bells, each weighing between 7 kg and 6 tonnes. Our Carillon is presently under renovation, greatly delayed by Covid restrictions, but normally there are organised concerts drawing audiences who sit in the surrounding park to listen. It also chimes the time every quarter hour.

The soft blacks, whites and greys of the 1942 image allow us to fix the image in time, it puts us back in those war years. Yet enough detail is visible to locate the architecture, which I needed to do after reading my father’s caption beneath the photo, ‘Tripoli’. Searching on Google images showed me the clock tower is not in Tripoli, Lebanon, but in Beirut.

The dark blacks and greys in the carillon picture are not as romantic, though there are sharp edges and more information in the image. This one works well in black and white since the only other colours in reality are the green of the vegetation and the blue sky behind the clouds. The lake that day was grey, and the tower, the obelisk and the building on the left are all stone colour, so there’s not much loss in converting the image to black and white.

In Canberra, and in Australia generally, carillon is pronounced carillion, like million. But it’s a French word that should be pronounced a bit like carry on. Consequently, an artist has played with this tendency of ours to pronounce foreign words so they resemble English words, and produced this card which a relative gave me:

Designed and printed in Canberra by Laura Staker.


Published by Trish

Literary translator

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