On a Photograph Taken by Bill Andersen
by John Robert Colombo
The photograph features the escalator of the Glencairn Subway Station in North York. The skylight overhead illuminates it, but the day was grey so there was no heavenly illumination here, no pillars of light, no sunbursts now.
The scene reminds me of sequences from Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis [Watch it here.] with its futuristic cityscape and its regimentation of the human spirit. The future is already here, science-fiction writer William Gibson noted some years ago, adding that as yet it is not evenly distributed.
Here is the beach-head of our future, our years ahead in miniature in a subway station set in an out-of-the-way part of our present-day world: mechanical, moving, working, streamlined, art deco, brutalist, sterile, impersonal, people-less, yet in a unique and inhuman way memorable, as caught in this image.
Thank you for your email message, John, and for your remembering of a photo I took 3 years ago! Do you think any other film has had as much influence on cinema, photography and video … ALL of the visual arts … as Lang’s Metropolis? I know Metropolis has been mined over and over again by art directors in the advertising game.
UPDATE: Rita Letendre commissioned to reinterpret Glencairn Station art
New work to be completed by 2017 ← (PDF with illustrations)
Glencairn Station’s brutalist architecture certainly fits Lang’s vision. According to Wikipedia, “Glencairn formerly featured a multi colour stained glass skylight entitled Joy designed by Rita Letendre, which was removed at the artist’s request after it became faded, and replaced with clear glass.”
JOY! I love it. What’s going on here? Warring visions? The grim architecture of Adamson Associates being humanized by the uplifting colours of a renowned Canadian artist? Or has the artist being hired to add a touch of Orwellian “Newspeak“? What’s your take?