This project has been made possible by a grant from the Creative Arts Council of Brown University.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Archival reflections: scale

Judging by the number of prints and photographs of the Arcade in the RIHS collection, it has been a favourite subject of artists and photographers since its construction. There are also some lovely insights to what the surrounding area looked like at earlier stages in the Arcade's history in the files on Westminster and Weybosset streets. What comes across most strongly in the earlier prints and photographs for me is the monumentality of the Arcade. This must have been a huge part of the experience of the building for those depicting it. It stands out as larger than the surrounding buildings, with the huge architectural elements on a non-human scale contrasted with the small figures on its steps, or on the street in front of the building.

Today the effect is quite different. Standing at the intersection of Westminster and Weybosset looking down Westminster, it takes me a minute to pick out the Arcade. It is dwarfed by the twentieth century skyscrapers that grew up around it, especially by the 1913 Turk's Head Building that towers up in sharp perspective from the intersection. Comparing this view with a photograph of the same intersection from before this area was built up (the photograph from the RIHS place files is undated- I am working of getting a date for it) is disorienting. The experience of the Arcade is entirely changed by this contextual alteration.

This was on my mind whilst leafing through the copious images in the place files. I had to be selective in choosing which images to have photographed for me because there are a huge number relevant to the Arcade and photocopies are $0.50/sheet. In making these choices, I am selecting and collecting an Arcade archive of my own to represent the larger holdings of the RIHS, and these will be the images that I share with the dancers. My choices will ultimately affect and direct their engagements with and insights into the site.

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