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  • Writer's pictureRobin Yong

Chim Chim Cher-ee 歡樂滿人間 チム・チム・チェリー

Updated: Jan 14

A chimney sweep is a person who clears ash and soot from chimneys. The chimney uses the pressure difference caused by a hot column of gas to create a draught and draw air over the hot coals or wood enabling continued combustion. Chimneys may be straight or contain many changes of direction. During normal operation, a layer of creosote builds up on the inside of the chimney, restricting the flow. The creosote can also catch fire, setting the chimney and the building alight. The chimney must be swept to remove the soot. This was done by the master sweep.

In Great Britain, the master sweeps took apprentices, typically workhouse or orphan boys, and trained them to climb chimneys. In the German States, master sweeps belonged to trade guilds and did not use climbing boys. In Italy, Belgium, and France climbing boys were used.

The occupation requires some dexterity, and carries health risks. The climbing boys, and sometimes girls, were technically called chimney sweeps' apprentices, and were apprenticed to a master sweep, who, being an adult, was too large to fit into a chimney or flue. He would be paid by the parish to teach orphans or paupers the craft. They were totally reliant on him: they or their guardians had signed papers of indenture, in front of a magistrate, which bound them to him until they were adults. It was the duty of the Poor Law guardians to apprentice as many children of the workhouse in their care as possible, so as to reduce costs to the parish. The master sweep had duties: to teach the craft and its mysteries, to provide the apprentice with a second suit of clothes, to have him cleaned once a week, allow him to attend church, and not send him up chimneys that were on fire. An apprentice agreed to obey his master. Once his seven-year-long apprenticeship was completed he would become a journeyman sweep, and would continue to work for a master sweep of his choice. Other apprentices were sold on to the sweep, or sold by their parents.

Chimney sweeps have long been bringers of luck in the United Kingdom as rumour has it that one saved William the Conqueror from an out-of-control horse. Believing the chimney sweep brought him good fortune, the king declared chimney sweeps lucky. In the 1700s, King George was traveling in his carriage when a growling dog spooked his horses. A chimney sweep came to his rescue and prevented the carriage from turning over. King George also declared chimney sweeps to be lucky. Nowadays they can be found at weddings, where they shake the groom's hand and kiss the bride on the cheek to bring luck to the marriage. Prince Philip reportedly dashed out of Kensington Palace on the day of his wedding to Queen Elizabeth to shake a chimney sweep's hand. Today, you can rent a real chimney sweep to attend your wedding, kiss the bride and shake hands. Some will even read the decree from King George declaring chimney sweeps as bringers of good fortune for the marriage.

Chimney Sweeps is a set of portraits I did for Italian artistes Elena Facchin and Michel Nadal who are veterans at the Venice Carnevale.

This is our very first collaboration. We have communicated by email and Elena has told me briefly about her costumes. When asked what time we would be meeting, I told Elena 8pm. She was surprised at the timing because I normally shoot using natural lighting only. Because this is an undisclosed hidden alley and I was afraid of people getting lost, I met her at nearby San Zaccaria square to bring her here. You can all imagine the look on Elena's face when she saw me turning up without any camera gear. 10 minutes later, she was extremely delighted at the shooting location. Elena and Michel are extremely sought after models at the Venice Carnevale. And they came well-prepared. The chimney emits smoke and there's a cd player within playing the Italian versions of songs from the Disney movie Mary Poppins. The opening song was of course "Chim Chim Cher-ee".

"Chim Chim Cher-ee" is a song from Mary Poppins, the 1964 musical motion picture by Walt Disney. It was originally sung by Dick Van Dyke and Julie Andrews, and also is featured in the 2004 Mary Poppins musical.

The song won the 1964 Academy Award for Best Original Song.

The song was written by Robert B. Sherman & Richard M. Sherman (the "Sherman Brothers") who also won an Oscar and a Grammy Award for Mary Poppins' song score.

The song was inspired by one of the drawings of a chimney sweep created by Mary Poppins' screenwriter, Don DaGradi. When asked about the drawing by the Sherman Brothers, DaGradi explained the ancient British folklore attributed to "sweeps" and how shaking hands with one could bring a person good luck. In their 1961 treatment, the Sherman Brothers had already amalgamated many of the P.L. Travers characters in the creation of "Bert". His theme music became "Chim Chim Cher-ee".

We basically turned a quiet alley into a movie studio. And of course Chimney Sweeps became part of my Venetian Movie Series. Conditions in making these photos for the Venetian Movie Series are usually making a movie...I have to scout Venice to look for the most beautiful, yet secluded locations (not an easy task during Carnevale period) and often scenes have to take place at private locations and at very odd hours. We carry a fair bit of lighting equipment and setting these up may take up to an hour so a single shoot can last up to 2-3 hours. At times, photos have to be processed on the spot just to make sure that we have got our desired results.

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