Sunday, October 26, 2008

Picturing Cambridge

Yesterday's thegrauniad featured a supplement of photos of Cambridge by Martin Parr. (He also took the pictures of the city that were used to cover up some of the boarding during the Grand Arcade project.) Some of these are interesting and certainly skillfully done. (You can see more of his work here on the Magnum site. I like his Bored Couples.) But the ones that represent the University in this new supplement are at best uninspired. Punting? Tick (twice). Bicycles? Tick (three times: one a pic of the Corpus Fellows' bike racks -- not sure if Mr Parr asked the Fellows' permission to use this one; the other two of people who mend or sell bikes). A don? Tick (Professor Beard holding forth enthusiastically). Students? Tick, well a few of them lying on the lawns outside King's, one of them reading the Penguin translation of a French version of the Camelot legend. Old staircase? Tick.

The photos as a whole do show that there is more to Cambridge than the university. But they depict the university in very boring and perhaps unrepresentative ways. The accompanying text also manages to enphasise the impression that there are two parts to the city that have little to do with one another. Parr speculates, at one point, when taken to the Arbury, 'a council estate in the north of the city', 'that most Cambridge dons had probably never been there'. Why on earth would he think that? Perhaps he assumes (as some students do) that we all live in our little college offices and venture out of the college gates only to go to a Faculty to lecture or perhaps to go the the Arts Theatre. We live here. And we live all over the city.

So I wondered: how would I want to picture the university? I think we might show something of the sheer amount of work that goes on here. It is not all lying on the lawn and deeps chats by the fire. A picture of the UL reading room on an October morning might be a start. It would certainly show a wide range of people working and researching there. Or a packed lecture theatre in the Law Faculty, an Engineering practical session, even a Faculty Board meeting at which papers are designed, PhDs awarded or not awarded and hard decisions made about where to cut back on spending. Go to a college on a Tuesday at 2am and see how many students are in the library working. (They won't be wearing boaters and college cricket sweaters, I'd guess.) Why not go to a college that isn't behind an 'ancient door'? Have a look at the art in Murray Edwards college or the new library being built at Fitzwilliam. Just something a bit different that would show that it's not all punts and May Balls and lawns.

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