I’m an architectural photographer and writer.
On my van-life travels through the British Isles I’m building up a word and photo-hoard of material culture that celebrates the value and distinctiveness of our built heritage and contributes to a sense of place.
My van is my time-machine, it gives me fresh perspectives on our remarkable places, shared here on a weekly basis. 📸🚐🏛
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⚡️Be There With Me
Heads-up for Patrons and Members: I'll be out and about on my travels again next week.
Hopefully (if the weather is fine), I'll be heading out into Lincolnshire and then into the Home Counties. I'll post out a link on Patreon and Twitter Circles next Tuesday.
The coast around Mortepoint, Devon, is divine.
I took a walk from my campsite and noticed the raking light on the rocks, so I used the drone to capture this shot. There’s something otherworldly and dream like about it.
"The mark of a great city is not how it treats its special places, but how it treats its ordinary ones"
Dog Slobber and Woody Memoranda
I’m out on a run. On my way up Cinder Hill, I pick up a wind-blown branch to place beneath the Whitten Tree.
The Whitten is a shrub where I mark my presence by placing a twig beneath its branches. I cross the motorway bridge with the branch in my hand. I’ve taken up the habit of opening out my arms and gliding across the bridge like an eagle over the hum drum of the daily commute. As I do, I think of my next journey - a 4000 year old yew, a doom wall that speaks and a fine Buckinghamshire church. As I finish the bridge, a square-faced dog strikes from nowhere, out from the scrub, hackles raised. It heads straight for me. Its hooded owner hovers a short distance away, unconcerned. I stand there: motorway-wings clipped, milk-bottle legs, twig-in-hand, head in academia with my feet full of dog slobber.
I feel a bit of a knob.
Shaken, I head up to the hill, heart thumping faster than usual. I feel transient, un-hooked. I pause at the Whitten and instantly feel better - at the base are sticks that are woody memoranda - twigs I’ve thrown in a moment with a thought attached.
"Shaken, I head up to the hill, heart thumping faster than usual."
The accumulated wisdom beneath the summer growth has made an insignificant shrub meaningful to me. As I run back down the hill, wary of the dog, but bolstered by broken branches, it dawns upon me how vital meaning is to us; how it is at the crux of everything we do; how we extract objects and structures from our timelines and use them to negotiate our lives.
Amy Liptrot says: “ We are meaning-making machines. I use all these little personal myths and totems to hold myself together.”
This week I visit the ancient tree and the doom laden wall and finally (instead of the Buckinghamshire church) the Beauchamp chapel at St. Mary’s in Warwick. The chapel is full of presence, a sense of place that resonates from being at the heart of the Tudor zeitgeist. I’m struck by the potent bronze effigy of Beauchamp at the centre of the chapel, but it’s something ephemeral that impacts me most on a blind arcade, hidden behind a kneeler.
Emerging from beyond the lime wash is a ghost angel. The faint outline of a face and wings. I’m told that the eye emerged first and then the face and that, as the wash wears away, more might be revealed. I take a photo with my device and share it on social media. I’m inundated with a diverse range of interpretations. Some can see it and others can’t. Some glimpse wings and others not. Some interpret a spiritual narrative in the slow reveal, others are more scientific in their observation.
"Emerging from beyond the lime wash is a ghost angel."
Through the photograph, dozens and dozens of people are able to add their own meaning to the faint outline of the figure at St. Mary’s. The angel is a sticky entrapment that shape-shifts relevancy to each individual. The stories people attach create meaning and meaning creates ties and obligations. It’s difficult to envisage the removal of the angel without a significant response in its favour.
It’s 2017, and I’m stood shivering on a dark December day within the nave of a medieval church. I’m part way through photographing the re-ordering of the church. Part of the arcade is to be partitioned off to provide new facilities and, whilst I’m there, I see a joiner prepping to fit a new wall brace to a medieval column. He’s about to drill a big hole into the column through a series of faint hexafoil circles. I stop him and explain the significance of the circles. I tell him that they are medieval, that they are possibly ritualistic, that they represent the unspoken and undocumented lives of normal people. The joiner manages to work out a way of installing the brace so that the marks remain intact. Now that they have been ennobled with a story, the simple scratch marks gain a relevancy that moves the joiner to save them.
"If only I’d managed to catch the builders in Middleton, Manchester several months back who demolished the bays of a house by Arts and Crafts genius, Edgar Wood."
If only I’d managed to catch the builders in Middleton, Manchester several months back who demolished the bays of a house by Arts and Crafts genius, Edgar Wood. The bays were the vowels and consonants in Wood’s bricks and mortar ode to his home town. He invested every curve and line with meaning. I’m a Middleton boy, and I can’t tell you how the irreparable and avoidable loss of the spirit of the building dented my identity, my self. To me it was a Liptrot totem that helped make sense of who I am.
I have seen many other places and objects lost or destroyed because there was nobody to tell their story. Their significance had been forgotten or hidden, or overwhelmed by cost benefit. Other places, on the brink of destruction, have been saved by a sudden burst of chatter forming a narrative net of safety.
In all of this, Ventura is my guiding light : “ What each of us must do is cleave to what we find most beautiful in our human heritage - and pass it on……And to pass these precious fragments on is our mission.”
This Genius Loci Digest is my response to his call to arms.
Power to the storytellers, the photographers and the artists, for they hold more influence than we give them credit for: the skill to teach others how to see; the potency to save buildings and places that might inform our future; the capacity to give salve to collective identity and personal wellbeing. Credence to those that shine a light, point their lens or ink their pen about the small, seemingly insignificant things, that give our lives a meaning beyond measure.
I’m on the final leg of my journey from Norton Canes to Barnstaple.
I’ve travelled through a host of counties and through a landscape that is full of several thousand years of ‘memoranda and signatures.’ Into Devon for a key photo shoot at a museum in Barnstaple.
Morthoe is a delightful little village just a short walk away from where I was lodged at Damage Barton campsite. It is situated along a smuggler's coast and has a church that holds bench ends that might win the best bench end competition in Benchendland.
The Bench Ends.
The chestnut bench ends are highly decorated and are said to be of C16th date, re-arranged in the 1850's. They are of a style that is particular to some churches in Devon and Cornwall.
📸 Photo Tip: The best way to photograph them is to sit down with your device, hold it steady against your chest and click. You just look a bit silly when people walk in. Most places look better when you take a lower shot, from child height. Keep the plane of your camera at 90 degs - don't tilt it.
I didn't quite catch this right with my iPhone. I put it into portrait mode - which uses an AI to blur the distance but it didn't focus well because it was quite dark.
The bench ends have various symbols, including Instruments of the Passion.
The marks below have been interpreted as a Saltire Cross -a symbol placed at the entrance to ward of spirits that might enter therein.
I'm a bit disconnected in Barnstaple - the historic core feels a bit worn - of secondary importance in the plan of things - but that might be me.
The Museum and the new museum extension and curtilage is addressing the dislocated aspect of the townscape by creating a central hub.
There are, however, real hidden gems to be seen beyond the museum along Litchdon Street.
St. Peter's has a C14th spire which is dressed in lead. The chevrons are not for decorative effect but to impede gravity. Look up at the spire pattern and you get a sense of the structure resolving itself, cascading down to the helm. Look for the little leaded bell turret cockled to the side.
From My Photo Hoard: Leadwork on historic buildings - a brief photographic aside.
Back to Barnstaple
St. Anne's Chapel is of the early C14th, but seems to have had a little upgrading since then. Built as a chantry chapel.
Adjacent to the church are a series of C17th buildings including almshouses.
Lies just beyond the museum.
The former buildings for the Brannam Pottery are delightful. Highly decorated - they speak their truth - of art and craft, encaustic, glass and terracotta, brick and clay. I didn't get to see them, but I'm told that there are surviving bottle kilns to the rear.
Penrose Almshouses of 1627
Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon
Oh to have a surviving decorative ornament cast in Coalbrookdale!
The museum has a substantial collection of Arts and Crafts furniture by local makers Shapland and Petter.
The day after photographing the museum I took a walk around Morte Point towards Bull Point and back through the village of Mortehoe.
And there ends the epic trip of Norton Canes to Barnstaple. I shall forever reminisce in the link below.
Follow Andy's Norton Canes to Barnstaple trip
Damage Barton Campsite
Damage Barton is ideal because of the views and its close proximity to the coastal path, Mortehoe and Woolacombe. Great, clean, well organised site and friendly staff.
The view from the campsite.
The view from my bed.
The campsite view of the setting sun over Morte Point.
A somewhat truncated T2 Bay camper at Barnstaple Museum.
And one with its back legs near Morthoe.
I've ordered some new kit - a rear awning for the van. It's a lot easier to put up than a side awning. It has an interior mosquito net which means I'll be able to leave the rear door open on hot days. Great for cooking inside, and I should be able to fix my detachable shower head.
On My Coffee Table
“The Tournai Marble font is one of Winchester Cathedral’s greatest treasures and is still used for baptisms. The font features scenes from the Miracles of St Nicholas of Myra on its four sides and may have been commissioned by Bishop Henry of Blois around 1150. It is widely considered the finest of a small group of fonts that were most likely carved at Tournai (now in Belgium) and were shipped to England in ‘kit’ form.
Step into a more entangled view of life on earth. Through new commissions, striking artworks and historic artefacts, ‘Rooted Beings’ reimagines our relationship with plants.
Dine like Da Vinci, unleash your inner diva – 101 ways the arts can slightly improve your life | Culture | The Guardian
Follow the gospel of Larry David, go gaming on horseback, always carry a cushion, bin your cinema mates and learn Korean off the telly … Guardian writers present their best cultural life hacks
Film and Sound
Earworm this week.
Listen to Stop on Spotify. Sam Brown · Song · 1988.
From the Twittersphere
This is a lovely and informative thread from Rebecca Warren.
Member and Patron Posts This Week
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I’m a niche photographer in a niche business and you are helping fill in the gaps, in a challenging climate, to help me maintain my advocacy of the historic environment.
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Without attachments to place, and the values it engenders, the more practical issues of finance, conservation and environment are more difficult to advocate.
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Not shouting but hinting