Richard Wentworth has been photographing tiny interventions in the inadequate way our urban world works since 1973. A boot holds a door open, a small dog is tied to a heavy shopping bag: one cannot leave without the other – that sort of thing. This photo, of intercessionary bricks on a set of stone steps is, of course, completely baffling. Can it be that it simply pleased someone to do it? It renders the capacious steps dangerous; it makes the bricks beautiful in their variety.
Above is a 1939 photograph of Kemnay Quarry on the eastern edge of the Cairngorms. We are looking at, according to the description, grey muscovite-biotite granite, a 122m deep pit and a pile of tailings at the top. In the foreground curbstones and setts are tidily stacked.
We are very used to monolithic surfaces that pour onto our streets and sidewalks, are flattened down and then harden into great impervious sheets of grey, where every street becomes a culvert. The re-examination of permeable paving for all sorts of reasons, water management and urban forestry being the main ones, could lead us back to the hand units: bricks, setts, cobbles and paving slabs, except that such systems are labour-intensive. Modern processes increasingly point in the direction of automation: the macro-scale of production and results, something almost guaranteed to increase the number of desperate little solutions to uncongenial habitats.