Friday, January 10, 2014

The New Arrival (Allan's book)

So, Wednesday the newest book we'd ordered arrived: RAIN CITY IN BLACK AND WHITE: Monochrome Photographs of Seattle by our friend Allan Armstrong [2013]. We learned of this through Allan's being a member of our book discussion group ('Mithlond') and, being fans of Allan's photography, when we learned he'd put out an art book we ordered a copy. It's now arrived, and I must say we're v. pleased with it.

He sets out his organizing principle in the back cover copy: Seattle's typical weather is grey and misty, but photos of the city usually feature it in bright, clear colors, being taken on those rare days when all is sunny and bright. By contrast, he shot in black-and-white to better evoke the city as it really is. The effect is surprisingly noir-ish, and I mean that in a good way.

His choice of subjects also helps: there's a definite preference here for images of bits of public architecture, most of it a century or so old. An ornate railing here, a walrus gargoyle there; old bridge supports alternating with utility buildings; an elegant courtyard, an art deco doorway: it all adds up to an unfamiliar but appealing view of the city. One abandoned business looked like it'd be perfect for a re-creation of Hopper's famous 'Nighthawks' painting (p. 32). There's also some history in the captions that was new to me, such as the "derelict ramps of the cancelled R. H. Thomson Expressway . . . aborted in 1970 because of a citizen revolt" (p. 19).

I have to admit that one reason this book appeals to me is that I've always loved alleys. When I'm out walking, I like to take back ways and see what buildings look like without their facades, from a point of view where patches and changes haven't been plastered over, where the old brick pavement still pokes through here and there among the puddles. There's a similar sort of backstage feel to some of these shots I really enjoyed.

Anyway, here's a link to more information (, and another that offers a preview that gives a really good idea of what the images look like (

--John R.

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