December 2017 - THIS week's PICTURE

Smithsonian Restroom : photo by Malcolm Aslett


Photographers go loopy in a new place. Everything is fresh to the eye. The shape of the lamp posts, the shutters on windows, even the clouds are different shapes depending on where you are (true story). Put this fact together with primal human needs and it is no wonder that the travelling photographer becomes a connoisseur of bathrooms. I rather suspect there are a lot of unpublished photographs of toilets, banos, vonios kambariai, שֵׁרוּתִים and الحماما. in the archives of quite a few camera folk.

This is a few frames from the Library of Congress - I think - if you were trying to place it. Not the best toilets I've been in I have to admit, but certainly not the worst. I hope we haven't lost all those Victorian and Georgian public toilets that used to be so ubiquitous in the UK, built to last a thousand years, buried like bunkers in the ground with glass brick ceilings to let the light in. Yes, they were scary as a kid, but it made men of us, braving cold and daunting spaces that leery old lechers might be hanging around. Rather like what those expeditionary forces had to go through in Afghanistan. But we kids did it and survived and grew up to be marginally respectable people. I don't like to use the word 'hero' but if the shoe fits I guess that makes me Cinderella. if you searched the web now you could probably find a site that specializes in recording the world's Pee Palaces. I won't as I have this page to finish, and also, one is enough for today.

What the fanned picture adds up to is a listing of the utilities that most of us are familiar with. All tasteful and functional in a governmental way. Rather neutral in form and the colours have been tamed to suit.

And what to say about it?

Ah, if only Marco Polo had had the means to relate this part of his journey, or Magellan and Cortez, Caesar and Sinbad. What a different picture of history we would have. So much lost to silence and returned to dust. Yes, this photograph is much more interesting than it appears. Just give it a thousand years.

ps. I put the seat down before I left.