I have a strange compulsion to photograph walls. Wherever we go. Some day, I’ll get around to my project of creating artwork from these images to hang, of course, on my wall. Meanwhile, I just love to find them among the holiday snaps and family pictures.
Why? Three good reasons.
Place. Almost nothing defines a place as well, as simply, as its walls. Take all the pictures you like of a Tudor mansion, a Derbyshire hillside, the Gaudi house in Comillas, the Pantheon at Rome, your own back garden. You won’t capture the character of a place any better than in a close-up of its walls. It’s right there, in the materials used, in the way they are combined, and in how they have weathered and aged.
Personality. You know where you are with a good wall. Because a good wall uses the materials to hand. The gold stone of a Cambridge college. The red marl of a Herefordshire cottage. But each one is unique. Look closely at how the craftsman overcomes the imperfections of individual bricks or the limitations of the mortar to keep the pattern, the bond, pin-tidy. Better still, admire the crazed genius of a thousand differently-shaped stones that somehow fit together to make a dry stone wall seem airtight.
Beauty. Oh, but they can be beautiful. The right materials, married perfectly. Colours we’re born to love, because they are distilled from the earth. And textures that soothe and comfort, because they are order shaped from nature.
Donald Trump has given walls a bad name. Walls that separate. Walls that imprison. We don’t want those walls. “Build bridges, not walls”, says Pope Francis. The sentiment is exactly right but perhaps, out of context, a little unfair on walls. Some of my favourite wall pictures are garden walls. Walls that promote life. Walls that gather together, protect, and nurture. I love to take those pictures when the sun is shining. You know you’ll feel the warmth from the brick when that image appears as your screensaver on a dank autumn evening. Such walls, such memories, we want. They are connecting walls.
Oh, and I have a fourth good reason for photographing walls, wherever we go.
It annoys the kids.