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Bollard Photography

Unusual art highlights meaning in the mundane

March 8, 2018

A black architectural bollard with circular top stands overlooks a seawall by the ocean
Looking toward the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi—Photo credit: Brandt Redd, http://bollard.brandtredd.com

Even the most plain, workaday objects have their fans.

Bollards are unassuming, and mostly ignored. They are everywhere and do many different things—they could be parking and lighting posts, stand-alone bike parking, flexible lane delimiters, perimeter markers, traffic guides, high-visibility security systems, architectural accents, or building protection.

Even with this variety and presence, most people pass them by without a second look.

There are those, however, who notice the diversity of these little posts and appreciate them. When these people have artistic skill and creativity, they can pass their vision on, and the unremarked is made interesting by their work.

Bollards marking history

British bollard photographer and retired nurse Maggie Jones has enjoyed a small flurry of media fame for her pictures of London’s bollards.

Tower Hamlets, a borough of London, tweeted a picture highlighting a historical post. Ms. Jones responded with a link to her bollard photos. The British public was charmed, and Ms. Jones was featured in articles in The Evening Standard and Time Out magazine and was also featured on two BBC Radio shows. We also reached out to Ms. Jones, curious about what drew her to bollards.

“I love history, particularly London history,” she said. “I noticed some bollards had letters written on them and after googling discovered that the letters were parish boundary markers. I then started looking at all bollards. Some had royal ciphers on them. Others were adverts for local companies.”

An old cannon bollard painted black, white and red is embossed Bailey & Pegg, 81 Bankside
Bailey & Pegg Co., London—Photo credit: Maggie Jones, https://www.flickr.com/photos/maggiejones/

One such bollard stands on Newbury St, EC1, in London. It is embossed with the name Bailey & Pegg Co. and an address: 81 Bankside. The bollard’s original home was 1 kilometer south across the Thames. Bailey & Pegg had a warehouse there, close to the grounds of the rebuilt Globe theatre. In the 1800s, the company was a busy foundry that cast pipes and fittings, as well as making cannons and other munitions. At that time, it was custom for bollards to be made using decommissioned cannons. In keeping with the style, Bailey & Pegg’s bollard has a distinctive cannon shape.

In the subsequent years, the manufacturer changed management, location, and name but it wasn’t until 2017 that it closed its doors, leaving its bollards as a memory of Southbank’s industrial past. Ms. Jones enjoys collecting these images and investigating them: “The bollards tell a story of the local area that they are situated in. It’s a glimpse into the history of that area.”

Five old cast iron bollards stand beside the Victoria Embankment near the Thames
Old bollards x 5, London—Photo credit: Maggie Jones, https://www.flickr.com/photos/maggiejones/

Bollards making news

In London often bollards mark the past, but in other places they have a much more modern connotation. A bollard photographer from the United States, Brandt Redd, started his photographic blog when he noted sleek new bollards in New York City, and found his interest stirred by recent events.

“We were temporarily living in Arlington, Virginia—just across the river from Washington DC. While on a weekend in New York City I noticed some particularly striking chrome bollards in front of the Port Authority Bus Terminal and directly across the street from the New York Times headquarters. I took a photo with the bollards in the foreground and the Times HQ in the background. It’s the first photo I posted on my blog.

Returning to Arlington I started to notice bollards all over Washington DC. Despite being a centuries-old invention, bollards have become a 21st century architectural feature because they are used to protect pedestrians and buildings against vehicular threats. Washington DC being replete with potential terrorist targets, there are bollards all around. So, I started photographing bollards in front of famous and important buildings.

I suppose I’m trying to combat the sober reality of that terrorist threat with the whimsy of a blog dedicated to bollards.”

A sense of scale is inherent to much of Mr. Redd’s photography: he shows small bollards protecting the much larger buildings or gathering places behind them. Exploring how anti-terrorist concerns influence architecture, Mr. Redd’s photos often provide a ‘bollards-eye-view’ of their surroundings.

Plain white bollards match the façade of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim
Disneyland Hotel, Anaheim, California—Photo credit: Brandt Redd, http://bollard.brandtredd.com

The bollard in portrait or landscape

Contrasting the two photographers shows how artistic approach conveys their differing perspectives. Mr. Redd’s photography invites exploration of the environment, with the featured bollard often off to one side of a chosen landscape image. He prioritizes the interplay between bollards and architecture this way: “I usually choose a site or building and then seek the bollards in the area. Artistic or unusual bollards are nice, but they should be compatible with the location and not stand out excessively.” Ms. Jones, on the other hand, waits to be captured by the bollard itself. Her photos frame what has caught her eye like subject of a portrait: “Any bollard that can tell me a story is of interest to me.”

Still, it would be wrong to mistake either photographer as limited only to one perspective. Mr. Redd recounts a trip to the Netherlands where the history of the bollards became his focus: “I was particularly charmed by the “Amsterdammertje,” which are throughout Amsterdam. The word, literally translated, means “little one from Amsterdam.” Our friend and guide, an Amsterdam native, explained that they have a long history of separating the street from the sidewalk as an alternative to the curbs used in most other cities. Amsterdamers have quite an affection for their bollards and they are emblazoned with the three crosses of St. Andrew from the Amsterdam Coat of Arms.”

Similarly, although Ms. Jones may focus on the individual subject, her photography explores and is aware of the environment she’s capturing. She is also an avid photographer of much of London’s architectural history. Her bollard portraiture is part of her documentation of the storied city. “I have travelled and the best place for bollards is London,” said Ms. Jones. The span of London’s past and present might not be captured in a single frame, but it is represented in her collection.

A specialized and whimsical tribe

Mr. Redd and Ms. Jones were both surprised by the existence of other bollard photographers, but the two artists are not alone. Poet and photographer Andrew Choate, also known as Saint Bollard, keeps an Instagram feed dedicated to the topic.

Other groups use bollards in humor. Bollards in Movies is a blog dedicated to imagining how the installation of bollards might change the plots of popular movies. Bollards of C-Town puts readers on a first name basis with local posts, and The Bollards of UNSW Facebook page sticks googly eyes on bollards and “interviews” them.

Although it is unlikely that traffic management devices will become an awards category in National Geographic’s Photography competition, as a subject they provide a lot more fodder than their low profile would suggest. Bollards are a form of communication in their myriad roles as signposts, protection, and guides. It’s not surprising that they’re the subject of playful artistry, even if most people still ask the artists “…but what IS a bollard?”

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