Monday, September 18, 2017

Burmese Days 22: King Bodawpaya and the World's Largest Pile of Bricks, Mingun

King Bodawpaya was definitely an ambitious chap. He wanted to build the largest stupa the world had ever seen. He chose a site on the west bank of the Irrawaddy River, now known as Mingun (Burmese: မင်းကွန်းမြို့; ), about 10 km northwest of the modern city of Mandalay. Bodawpaya began his monumental Mingun Pahtodawgyi in 1790 but never completed it because an astrologer claimed that, once the temple was finished, the king would die. 
Bodawpaya's stupa followed in a tradition practiced by Burmese kings for centuries. The plain of Bagan, south of Mandalay, is covered with literally hundreds of stupas. Each king wanted to outdo his predecessor. These were religious structures, but, as you all know, a monumental temple's real purpose is for the ruler to a. demonstrate his power to his enemies (real or imagined); b. show the political opponents who is on top (this is the real threat); and c. keep the peasants and underlings awed and groveling.
Freshly fried dry-fish cakes.
The ride across the Irrawaddy is very pleasant. Mingun is a popular with both Burmese school groups and foreign visitors. Vendors sell snacks and souvenirs.
To generate the appropriate awe to visitors alighting at the riverbank, Bodawpaya built two grand lions. Unfortunately, the lions collapsed in the big earthquake of 1839. To get an idea of their scale, this marble ball is one of the eyeballs!
Walk to the base of the unfinished stupa and start a circumnavigation, and you realize what a staggering pile of bricks this thing is. The sides are 73 m (240 ft) long, and construction abruptly ended when the pile reached a height of 49 m (160 ft). If completed, it would have reached to 150 m, making this the largest stupa in the world.
The workmanship was spectacular. Bricks were shaped as needed for specific decorative locations.
The drain pipes were crocodile snouts.
As I wrote above, King Bodawpaya never finished his project. He used thousands of slaves and prisoners of war in the effort. Our Burmese guide said the surrounding villages were tithed to supply bricks and laborers every year. The need to fire millions of bricks caused massive deforestation, and the loss of manpower from the villages caused poverty and discontent. Possibly the use of an astrologer was a convenient way to convince Bodawpaya to give up his project. Bodawpaya died in 1819, and on March 23, 1839, a strong earthquake caused huge cracks to open in the structure. The photograph above shows one of the entrances on the west side of the pile.
The walkway to the top may or may not be open. The sign says no, but the railing is shiny and new.
The Mingun bell in 1873 (photographer unknown)
Approx. 1880.
Bodawpaya's excesses did not end with his stupa. He also wanted the largest bell in the world. Casting started in 1808 and ended in 1810. It was cast on the east side of the river and moved using barges. A canal was built for the barges, then dammed off and elevated via levees to float the bell into position.
The bell weighs 90,718 kg (199,999 pounds) and was for two centuries the largest uncracked bell in the world (the Kremlin bell is larger, but has a crack and cannot be rung). The 1839 earthquake knocked the Mingun Bell off its supports. Technicians from the Irrawaddy Flotilla Company (the British company than ran boats in the Irrawaddy River) hoisted the bell onto a new support frame in March of 1896. If you look at the photograph above, you can see a massive iron pillar with square-head bolts, an example of heavy-duty Victorian construction.

The blog, Burmese Silver,  has a detailed description, including historical photographs, of how the bell was cast (click the link).
Amazing architecture just does not end in this place. This is the Hsinbyume Pagoda (or the Myatheindan Pagoda), built in 1816 to honor Princess Hsinbyume, who died in childbirth. This is very different from the norm in Burmese pagoda architecture. The concentric rows represent the seven mountain ranges going up to Mount Meru.

Photographs taken with Panasonic G3 and Fujifilm X-E1 digital cameras, with some RAW files processed with PhotoNinja software on a Mac computer.

For previous articles on Burma, please type the word "Burma" in the search box.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Mississippi Delta 24: Panther Burn

Panther Burn is an unincorporated community in northwestern Sharkey County, Mississippi. What a fascinating name! The blog Ophelia Explains it All has a detailed comment from an anonymous writer about the unusual name. It was related to burning the brush to prepare the land for cotton agriculture. Panther Burn is a bit out of the way, but my family and I had been birding in Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge and were heading south on US 61 when we decided to stop and look around.
We saw a group on the porch of an old cold-storage building. They were students from Illinois and Wisconsin with their mothers' ashes. Their mothers had been part of the great diaspora in the 1950s, when thousands of African Americans fled Mississippi to escape poverty, brutality, and the seething racial hatred that dominated the social conditions at the time. The midwife's house had formerly been in the lot next to the warehouse, and the students wanted to spread the ashes where their mothers had been born. We were honored to be able to share this time with these visitors from Illinois and Wisconsin. I sent them digital files of these photographs.
There is not too much to see in Panther Burn, just some old sheds, farm  houses, and mobile homes.

Photographs taken with a Mamiya C220 twin-lens camera with the Mamiys 55mm lens. Film was Kodak Tri-X professional, the older ISO 320 emulsion, developed in XTOL developer. The lens had some flare, accounting for the loss in contrast.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Small Towns in Mississippi: Return to Coles on MS 33

If you drive south to Baton Rouge, the woodland route on MS 33 and LA 19 is much more interesting than the four-lane US 61. One of the little towns you drive through in the Homochitto National Forest on MS 33 is Coles (don't blink or you will miss it). The little town consists of a few houses and an abandoned store. I have taken digital pictures here before buy wanted to try some fine-grain film with my Rolleiflex.
An old house at 5599 MS 33 has a shaded porch and some of these old-fashioned steel porch chairs. They remind me of Adirondack-style chairs from cabins in northern New York of New England. The house is secure but appears to be unused.
The lady in the photograph is Mrs. Merit Arnold. She is standing in front of the former store which was also her brother's home. He was murdered by a person who lived across the street. On the day of the funeral, the Houston, Texas, police called to say they had apprehended the suspect. Mrs. Arnold said the house is empty and deteriorating. Her father or uncle built some of the lumbering railroads in the area in the early 20th century.
A couple of miles to the north in Crosby, heavy pilings testify to the fact that a railroad once crossed Foster Creek.
A few miles further north in Garden City (just south of Knoxville), I saw an old-fashioned cottage or farm house off the road. Very simple and traditional.
Across the street: one of those great Mississippi yards filled with old cars, metal debris, and other photogenic junk. There is plenty of subject matter here: you just need to slow down and look around.

Photographs taken with a Rolleiflex 3.5E twin-lens reflex camera with a 75mm f/3.5 Xenotar lens using Kodak Panatomic-X film, exposed at ISO 20 (all frames tripod-mounted).

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Lost Victorian House, 1210 Finney Street, Vicksburg

In early July, my wife and I drove on Finney Street and saw the city inspector's paint marking on a handsome old 2-story wood Victorian-era house. That means trouble, that the house is scheduled for demolition unless the owner completes many required repairs to bring it up to the city's safety or habitability standards. This house had been used as a rental for years or decades and was in ratty condition.
But there was scaffolding around the porch and some timbers had been replaced. We hoped it could be saved. These old houses can endure decades of neglect, but once the roof begins to fail, water causes rot.
Bad news. On Saturday, September 2, 2017, I bicycled along Drummond Street and saw the trucks on Finney Street. A demolition crew was at work smushing the Victorian house and loading the timbers and debris into trucks. Was it not worth deconstructing it to save 100+-year-old joists and flooring? Well, that is how we lose our architectural heritage.

The square photographs are from a Hasselblad film camera with the 50mm Distagon lens, using Kodak Panatomix-X film. The last picture is from a Nexus 4 telephone (sorry, no room for the Hasselblad on my bicycle).

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Metal-Shingled Gasoline Station, Claude, Texas

On our way back home from Santa Fe, we drove on US 287 from Amarillo, Texas, to Dallas. 287 is not part of the old Route 66, but there are a surprising number of old gas stations, closed business strips, restaurants, and deserted farm houses that provide a 1950s Route 66 ambience. That part of the Texas Panhandle warrants a return trip with a big film cameras (Aha, road trip!).
Claude is a small town southeast of Amarillo. We were zipping through town and this little gasoline station caught my eye. Look at the roof tiles: they look like clay but are really steel with (probably) a zinc coating.
Under the overhang, the original zinc ceiling panels are still in place. You still see these in early-20th century commercial buildings, and recreations are available for places that want to replicate the old-timey look.
Inside, a resident! I suppose the gas station attendant is still awaiting customers.
I have seen these zinc roof tiles before. This is the old Tallulah (Louisiana) Terminal, now known as Scott Field. This handsome little terminal was on the original routing of Delta Airlines.
This is a close-up of some of the tiles, photographed from the second floor. Nice workmanship. I am surprised we do not see these types of metal tiles used more on current construction.

An article by Thomas Rosell in Preservation Mississippi provides some advertisements from companies that made metal shingles. Many were from the Montrose Metal Roofing Company of Camden, New Jersey.

The 2017 photographs are from a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. The 1991 is a Fuji Velvia slide taken with a Leica M3 camera and a 50mm f/2.8 Elmar lens (that was the superb 1960s and 1970s version with lanthanum glass and an almost circular diaphragm).

Monday, August 28, 2017

The Valentine Diner of Chandler, Oklahoma

On our recent Route 66 trip through Oklahoma, we passed through the small town of Chandler. I stopped to photograph a historic Phillips 66 gasoline station on the corner of Manvel and 7th Street. My always-observant wife looked down the street and told me to check out old diner. A real find!
The inside was a mess, and the counters were gone. But you can see the streamlined pseudo-Art-Deco stripes on the overhead cabinets. Nice work.
Viewed from the other side, you can see there was once a fire. So far, there is no sign of restoration in progress. But at least the windows were intact. 

An article on diners in Preservation Mississippi directed me to the Kansas Historical Society, which has a page dedicated to these efficient, compact diners. 
From the Kansapedia of the Kansas Historical Society:


"What are Valentine Diners? They are small, portable restaurants that were made in Wichita and shipped all over the United States."
"Valentines were small eight- to 12-seat diners with a limited menu, making them ideal for a one person operation. They made it possible to operate a business with very little capital. "
"These diners were manufactured in Wichita from the late 1930s into the mid-1970s. Sales of the buildings expanded nationwide, and soon Valentines were all over the United States. Many are still in use today. "
  • "History: A 1958 Valentine that originally was located in Leedy, Oklahoma, this diner was purchased by Patina Properties in 2003 and moved to Chandler. It currently is being restored.
  • Model / serial number: Little Chef / 1690"

Photographs taken on July 25, 2017 with a Fuji X-E1 digital camera. I processed the RAW files with Photo Ninja software. If you use a Fuji camera, I recommend Photo Ninja highly.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Abandoned Fuel Terminal, Mulberry Street, Vicksburg (in film)

Kansas City Southern tunnel under Washington Street, Vicksburg
1898 keystone
Mulberry Street runs from Washington Street down the hill to Levee Street, on the dry (east) side of the Yazoo Canal floodwalls in Vicksburg. An abandoned oil distribution terminal is located next to the Kansas City Southern railroad tracks, where they make a turn and go through a tunnel under Washington Street. This complicated rail routing has existed since before the Civil War.The beautiful brick and stone tunnel has a keystone with an engraving of 1898.
There are a couple of steel utility buildings on the site. Not too exciting. Washington Street is on the hill above.
One building had piles and piles of old invoices and receipts. I guess this is the paperless office we hear about so often.
I revisited the terminal on a sunny day spring 2017 when I was testing my newly-acquired Hasselblad. These three are with Tri-X 400 film. Not much has changed. There is still a faint aroma of petrochemicals. Mississippi is easy for this type of photography because many abandoned sites are unlocked and open.

The horizontal photographs are from a Fuji GW690II 6×9 medium format rangefinder camera and Panatomic-X film. The square photographs are from a Hasselblad 6×6 camera with Kodak Tri-X 400 film.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The Mississippi Delta 23: Morgan City

Morgan City is a small farming town in Leflore County on Hwy. 7 southwest of Greenwood. (Note, this is a small town in Mississippi, not the much larger city of the same name on the Atchafalaya River in southern Louisiana.)
The main road through town, Hwy. 7, has an agricultural complex, but I could not tell if it was in operation.
The local dudes were hanging around near the Morgan store and having a good old time with plenty of beer. Note how this early 20th century brick building has a 45° corner to provide access from both streets.
Across Hwy. 7, Diggs Street is a community of mobile homes with a couple of ranch-style houses.
There is not much to the town. Several houses look like this.
The Mount Zion Church is north of Morgan City, at the junction of Hwy. 7 and 511 in Sheppardtown.
South of Morgan city, in Swiftown, the Sunflower River was in flood and coursing through the woods. It was fun to stand on the bridge and watch the water flow and bubble beneath me.

Photographs taken with a Fuji GW690II 6×9 camera (medium format) with 90mm f/3.5 Fujinon lens on the classic Kodak Panatomic-X film (long discontinued). I wrote about Panatomic-X in an earlier post (click the link).