Sunday, 12 September 2010

Now and then


This is where I was a student, an unconscionably long time ago: New Hall, Cambridge, lately renamed Murray Edwards College, which grates of course on alumnae, but down the ages such places have often changed their names to honour new benefactors.  The college was just a few years old when I was there in the 1970s and in the intervening decades it has changed, become both softer and more solid - it's aging alongside my own. I always rather liked the bald, hard buildings, but their considerable beauty eluded me back then. I had no aesthetic sense. Now, of course, I can see them as an artefact, know something of the architects, but I've never been able to photograph them successfully. Last weekend, with the low, seductive September light and the pre-term lack of busy human figures to invade the pure lines, was a good opportunity for another attempt.

I went there to see a very interesting exhibition, which turned out disappointing - that same low light blasting horizontally into the delicate, multi-layered works and making them hard to see; perhaps I need to go again on a resolutely cloudy day.  The water, though - still, shallow water around the stilled fountain outside the window - that was art. And when I went back upstairs and along the central walkway, the whole place was preening itself. So I hung about for a while trying to capture the beauty of these once familiar surroundings, looking around me from somewhere between past and present.  

I was happy on and off as a very young woman in Cambridge - free of my miserable family and free to do the silly, adolescent things I'd never done as an adolescent: that was good. And also lost, disappointed by my failure at learning and disappointed by confused attempts at relationships. Above all, full of hope. Hoping and trusting that my life would find a shape. The truth is it never has, I was thinking from behind the camera, looking at these big, strong architectural shapes and tunnels of light. But the now embedded reality of this place and the sunshine pouring through it was somehow a comfort, an intimation of continuity and growth. And taking photographs, that is a comfort - oh, yes.

More photos here.

4 comments:

litlove said...

I cannot get used to the place being called Murray Edwards and have to think twice whenever I hear the name mentioned! I love what you wrote about your time at Cambridge - it sounded so very very familiar to mine as an undergraduate.

Lucy said...

Sound s like quite a brave thing to do, go back like that, but a good one, especially at this time of year, and your recollections seem gentle and generally positive...

liliannattel said...

Your description reminds me, too, of how I felt in university, too.

Rachel Fox said...

I was at Cambridge in the late 1980s and certainly remember some of the most disappointing relationships of my life (public schoolboys...all kinds of problems...). Most of all I went there hoping to meet lots and lots of clever, exciting, brilliant people (whatever that really means) but it felt like a kind of dull boarding school a lot of the time - and so cut off from the rest of the world. I probably would have just left if it hadn't been for my Mum (very proud) and the fact that some relative had told me if I got a CU degree I'd never have to work hard again. That lazy side...always a downfall!