"Rebuilding Southwark Bridge, London," Ian Strang (1920)
Rebuilding Southwark Bridge, London
Southwark Bridge in London is one of the many bridges crossing the Thames River. This print depicts the end stages of the bridge’s renovations, undertaken between 1912-1921. British artist Ian Strang was known for his exacting attention to detail when rendering mechanical and architectural scenery. He often depicted machinery alongside devastation, a phenomenon he personally witnessed while serving in the First World War and selling his works to the War Artists Advisory Commission during World War II. Throughout his time working on wartime subjects, Strang focused on depicting destroyed and bombed buildings. This image, created between the two wars, shows hope and progress during the period of reconstruction. Though he would return to images of the Blitz and other bleak subjects in the 1940s, this print comes at a time when he’s turned his attention to the reconstruction of Britain, including the historic bridge. Here, he flips the theme of devastation to focus on the theme of reconstruction, the creation of new structures, and new engineering. Yet, the workers who carried out this immense project are conspicuously nowhere to be seen. Many of the men who toiled to finish this project would have been pulled away from their work to go to war; many of them dying, never to return to London. Whereas the bridge, close to completion, stands for new industry and power, the workers are conspicuous in their absence, as much a casualty of war as the bombed buildings that Strang often depicted. Crosshatching lines render in minute detail a thousand pieces of metal pieced together. But in the image, only one figure is visible, an observer looking up at the grand scale of the bridge that stands witness to an impossibly complex process achieved through countless hours of labor and human ingenuity.