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The Extraordinary American Professor Who Photographed the Striking Christian Architecture of Russia’s North

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Editors Note: This article is from a series by and about the invaluable William Brumfield, (Wikipedia), Professor of Slavic Studies at Tulane University, New Orleans, USA.

Brumfield is the world’s leading historian of Russian architecture.  He makes frequent trips to Russia, often to her remote regions, and records the most unusual examples of surviving architecture with detailed, professional photography. Most of the buildings he photographs is of remote churches and monasteries.

His most recent book is a real treasure, Architecture At The End Of The Earth, Photographing The Russian North (2015). (Amazon).  This truly beautiful book was made possible by the support of a US philanthropist, and its true cost is 3 times its retail price, and we can’t recommend it highly enough.  Here is our 2015 review of it.

Bravo to RBTH for making Brumfield’s work possible, and providing such a great platform for his beautiful photography.  We recommend visiting the RBTH page, which has a slide show for each article with many more pictures than we can fit in here.

Don’t believe in miracles?  Well, we can assure you, Brumfield’s work is undoubtedly just that.


It’s not easy to get William Brumfield to talk about himself. For Brumfield, 71, the foremost authority on Russian architecture in the U.S., the focus of any conversation is the work. And the work, first and foremost, is the photography.

“The photography has always been the fulcrum for me to convey this knowledge that I have about Russian culture and architecture,” Brumfield said.

Although photography has defined Brumfield’s career, he did not train as a photographer. He studied Slavic languages and literature at the University of California at Berkeley, receiving his PhD in 1973.  Perhaps fittingly, he first picked up a camera on his first trip to the Soviet Union in 1970.

The only time a conversation with Brumfield hints at anything personal is when he talks about the connection between the Russian North and his native American South.

Like the South, the Russian North is full of structures that tell the story of a culture clinging to its heritage while searching for a way forward.

“For all the losses, the trauma… there is an extraordinary wealth, much of it in a ruined state. But for the historian, the ruin is also important. This is something of extraordinary power. What created it? Because there’s nothing visible sustaining it now.”

Born in Charlotte, North Carolina, Brumfield did his undergraduate work at Tulane University in New Orleans, where he has also taught since 1980. 

A tireless advocate for the recognition and preservation of Russian architecture, Brumfield has published countless articles in English and Russian as well as several major books, including “A History of Russian Architecture,” (1993) widely used as a textbook in Russian studies courses and “Lost Russia,” (1995) which Brumfield described as a book that tried to put Russian architecture into a familiar Western context, “this trope of the ruin as a point of meditation.”  

His more recent work, including “Architecture at the End of the Earth,” which was published in June, approaches Russian architecture more on its own terms, as an anomaly that doesn’t fit into the traditional narrative of Western art and architectural history.

“It’s interesting because it’s Russia,” he said, adding that in his view, “architecture is as much an expression of Russia as its music or literature. Although it’s rare to find any of the great novelists talking about the architecture of a church, for example, that ambience is there.”

He has received numerous accolades for his work over the years, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2000, but he says he doesn’t seek out these opportunities, rather they find their way to him.

When the National Gallery of Art approached him about creating an archive of his photographs in 1985, he says it was “not because of some abstract idea — we need to fill in Russia, there’s a gap here — but because they saw an article of mine and my photographs.”

The National Gallery archive led to connections at the Library of Congress, which supported other research trips, which in turn led to other grants.

“These linkages have been so unpredictable in my career, but the image has to be there,” he said. “There’s a higher logic here that goes beyond anything that I could have predicted, it’s the power of the image — it never ceases to amaze me how people respond to that.”

Brumfield’s unique ability to create these powerful images of Russian architecture comes from his roots as a scholar of Russia itself, according to Blair Ruble, former director of the Kennan Institute in Washington, DC and a longtime friend of Brumfield. “His interests grew from his love of Russian culture, which makes his photography different from that of an architectural photographer.  No one – certainly no foreigner, and only a handful of Russians at most – have ever attempted as comprehensive a compendium of the Russian built environment as has Brumfield,” Ruble said. 

For now, Brumfield is focusing is on archiving the images that exist in pre-digital form — as well as taking more.

Last winter, he was invited to photograph the memorial to victims of the Gulag in Norilsk, a formerly closed city that even today requires an invitation to visit.

He has been approached about doing a book on Siberia, but is concerned about the time it would take to develop a unifying concept for such a vast area and make the trips to take the photographs. He would like to do a trip to the Russian south and photograph some cities he has never visited, including Krasnodar and Astrakhan. Such a trip would take him in the footsteps of early 20th century photographer Sergei Prokudin-Gorsky, whose early color photographs of imperial Russia prefigured Brumfield’s own work.

“I’m whittling down this menu of options, but fate has a way of determining these journeys,” he said.

“How much I’ll be able to get done in my allotted span is very much an open question. I’ve become almost fatalistic about it now.”

Although he says that he has spent more time in Russia than any American who doesn’t live here, Brumfield has no desire to move to Russia and do photography full time, because that would mean giving up teaching.

“We’re trying to create educated citizens and they need to know something about Russian culture,” he said. “To the extent that my work can reach out to our students, that’s good. I do my job and I have to believe that it’s going to make a difference to someone, because I know that the people who started me on this journey were just dedicated teachers, not art historians.”


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Census 2022 – what difference does it make?

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Next Sunday, April 3rd, is Census night. Millions of people in homes countrywide will fill in page after page of questions, some of which are deeply personal and many of which might be unfamiliar.

But what it is it all about?

At a basic level, Census 2022 will be used to inform planning of public policy and services in the years ahead, according to the Central Statistics Office.

The questions will cover a range of environmental, employment and lifestyle issues, including the use of renewable energy sources in homes.

The questions will help inform policy development in the areas of energy and climate action, and the prevalence of internet access, to understand the availability of and need for internet connections and range of devices used to access the internet.

Questions also focus on changes in work patterns and will include the trend of working from home and childcare issues, while questions are also asked about the times individuals usually leave work, education or childcare, to help identify and plan for transport pattern needs locally and nationally.

Other topics covered include volunteering and the type of organisations volunteers choose to support, tobacco usage and the prevalence of smoke alarms in the home.

And of course there is a time capsule – the chance to write something which will be sealed for the next 100 years.

In this episode of In The News, the head of census administration Eileen Murphy and statistician Kevin Cunningham about what it all means for us.

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Oscars 2022: Will Smith makes Oscar history after slapping Chris Rock over joke about wife Jada Pinkett Smith | Culture

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Will Smith took the Oscar for Best Actor at last night’s 94th Academy Awards, but he also became the protagonist of the ceremony for other reasons. The night was following the script, until Smith slapped comedian Chris Rock on the stage after the latter made a joke about the shaved head of the former’s wife, Jada Pinkett Smith. Rock had quipped that he was “looking forward to GI Jane 2,” in reference to her look. Pinkett Smith has revealed publicly that she has alopecia. It looked as if the moment had been planned, until Smith went back to his seat and shouted: “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth.”

The moment, which immediately became Oscar history but for all the wrong reasons, left the attendees with frozen smiles, and asking themselves whether it was possible that a veteran such as Smith could have lost his cool in front of tens of millions of people. After taking the prize for Best Actor, the superstar actor made a tearful apology, saying that he hoped the Academy “will invite me back.” Later on, actor Anthony Hopkins called for “peace and love,” but it was already too late. The incident overshadowed the success of CODA, which took the Oscar for Best Picture. Just like the time when Warren Beatty mistakenly named La La Land as the big winner of the night, no one will speak about anything else from last night’s awards.

At first sight, Smith’s actions looked as if they were scripted. When he first heard Rock’s joke, he laughed. But his wife was seen on camera rolling her eyes, and it was then that the actor got up onto the stage and hit Rock. When he returned to his seat he raised his voice twice to shout “Get my wife’s name out of your fucking mouth,” sending a wave of unease and shock through the attending audience. The fact that he used the f-word, which is prohibited on US television, set alarm bells ringing that this was real and not a planned moment. In fact, the curse word was censored by the broadcaster, ABC, in the United States.

During a break, Smith’s PR manager approached him to speak. In the press room, which the actor skipped after collecting his prize, instructions were given to the journalists not to ask questions about the incident, Luis Pablo Beauregard reports. The next presenter, Sean “Diddy” Combs, tried to calm the situation. “Will and Chris, we’re going to solve this – but right now we’re moving on with love,” the rapper said.

When Smith took to the stage to collect his Best Actor award for his role as Richard Williams – the father of tennis stars Venus and Serena – in King Richard, he referred to the character as “a fierce defender of his family.” He continued: “I’m being called on in my life to love people and to protect people and to be a river to my people. I know to do what we do you’ve got to be able to take abuse, and have people talk crazy about you and have people disrespecting you and you’ve got to smile and pretend it’s OK.”

He explained that fellow actor Denzel Washington, who also spoke to Smith during a break, had told him: “At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.”

“I want to be a vessel for love,” Smith continued. “I want to be an ambassador of that kind of love and care and concern. I want to apologize to the Academy and all my fellow nominees. […] I look like the crazy father just like they said about Richard Williams, but love will make you do crazy things,” he said. He then joked about his mother, who had not wanted to come to the ceremony because she had a date with her crochet group.

The Los Angeles Police Department released a statement last night saying that Chris Rock would not be filing any charges for assault against Smith. “LAPD investigative entities are aware of an incident between two individuals during the Academy Awards program,” the statement read. “The incident involved one individual slapping another. The individual involved has declined to file a police report. If the involved party desires a police report at a later date, LAPD will be available to complete an investigative report.”

On December 28, Pinkett Smith spoke on social media about her problems with alopecia. She stated that she would be keeping her head shaved and would be dealing with the condition with humor. “Me and this alopecia are going to be friends… Period!” she wrote on Instagram.



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House-price inflation set to stay double digit for much of 2022

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House-price inflation is expected to remain at double-digit levels for much of 2022 as the mismatch between what is for sale and what buyers want continues.

Two new reports on the housing market paint a picture of a sector under strain due to a lack of supply and increased demand driven by Covid-related factors such as remote working.

The two quarterly reports, one each from rival property websites myhome.ie and daft.ie, suggest asking prices accelerated again in the first quarter of 2022 as the stock of homes available for sale slumped to a new record low.

Myhome, which is owned by The Irish Times, said annual asking-price inflation was now running at 12.3 per cent.

Price

This put the median or typical asking price for a home nationally at €295,000, and at €385,000 in Dublin.

MyHome said the number of available properties for sale on its website fell to a record low of 11,200 in March, down from a pre-pandemic level of 19,000. The squeeze on supply, it said, was most acute outside Dublin, with the number of properties listed for sale down almost 50 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

It said impaired supply and robust demand meant double-digit inflation is likely until at least mid-2022.

“Housing market conditions have continued to tighten,” said author of the myhome report, Davy chief economist Conall Mac Coille.

“The broad picture of the market in early 2022 remains similar to last year: impaired supply coupled with robust demand due to Ireland’s strong labour market,” he said.

Soure: MyHome.ie

“One chink of light is that new instructions to sell of 7,500 in the first 11 weeks of 2022 are well up from 4,800 in 2021, albeit still below the 9,250 in 2019. The flow of new properties therefore remains impaired,” said Mr Mac Coille.

“Whatever new supply is emerging is being met by more than ample demand. Hence, transaction volumes in January and February were up 13 per cent on the year but pushed the market into ever tighter territory,” he said.

He said Davy was now predicting property-price inflation to average 7 per cent this year, up from a previous forecast of 4.5 per cent, buoyed strong employment growth.

Homes

Daft, meanwhile, said house asking prices indicated the average listed price nationwide in the first quarter of 2022 was €299,093, up 8.4 per cent on the same period in 2021 and and just 19 per cent below the Celtic Tiger peak, while noting increases remain smaller in urban areas, compared to rural.

Just 10,000 homes were listed for sale on its website as of March 1st, an all-time low. In Dublin, Cork and Galway cities, prices in the first quarter of 2022 were roughly 4 per cent higher on average than a year previously, while in Limerick and Waterford cities the increases were 7.6 per cent and 9.3 per cent respectively.

The report’s author, Trinity College Dublin economist Ronan Lyons, said: “Inflation in housing prices remains stubbornly high – with Covid-19 disturbing an equilibrium of sorts that had emerged, with prices largely stable in 2019 but increasing since.

“As has been the case consistently over the last decade, increasing prices – initially in Dublin and then elsewhere – reflect a combination of strong demand and very weak supply.”


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