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I'm an architectural photographer. I travel around Britain recording and interacting with special places that have a spirit about them. I work from my camper van called Woody and I share my experiences via this digest.
Through the looking glass: the C17th Northern Renaissance effigy of Sir Henry Poole at St. Kenelm, Sapperton, Gloucestershire.
"All art can have the power of poetic revelation about the material world - it can reveal the ensoulment of the universe."
Breaking The Frame
I’m sat in a particularly gnarly traffic jam on the M6, but there is respite. I have my BBC Sounds playlist on and I’m listening to the dulcet tones of Melvin Bragg taking on the Celts along with Barry Cunliffe, Alistair Moffat, and Miranda Aldhouse Green.
They talk of the Celtic obsession with heads - how decapitating the head of their foes acted as a kind of spiritual acquisition of the enemies soul. There’s an interesting line of development from those beliefs through to the protective head carvings and motifs we see around our church doors and openings.
When I’m photographing an older building, I’m caught up with the same sense of lust for acquisition albeit, thankfully, in a more refined way. With each click of the camera shutter I feel as though I’m carrying off the heads myself - captured within the prism of my lens - converted into binary digits and stored upon my digital SD card. Every now and then, I come across a piece of work that makes me put my camera down.
"Every now and then, I come across a piece of work that makes me put my camera down."
Take the clasp and strapwork on the door at Lichfield Cathedral. On this beautiful sun-lit day, I remind myself that all I really have is this given moment, so I stand and observe the intricate pattern and follow it with my eyes. I reach out and touch a nail head. I can feel the roughness of the patina on my hand. My fingers work in circles - tracing the line of movement of the blacksmith’s hand around the swirls and cusps of the Gothic genre, until it peters out into hammered wafer-like thinness.
And then I take a photograph. Now I am the master of all before me. I choose to leave out certain facets, but include others. It sits here now, in silence, below these words, but in the sharing of it - it becomes as powerful as taking the soul of another.
John Berger says of art (and photography):
“Occasionally this uninterrupted silence and the stillness of a painting can be very striking, it’s as if the painting, absolutely still, soundless, becomes a corridor - connecting the moment it represents with the moment at which you are looking at it. And something travels down that corridor, at a speed greater than light throwing into question our way of measuring time itself. ”
Out of the silence of this image, I see the blacksmith's hammer and tong wrought from faith and devotion. I see the silvering of the oak, and note the intricacy of the pattern. A tale of two ages unfolds before me, the playful angles of the flat head screws contrast with the delicate craftsmanship of the keyhole. It's voicefulness transcends the mere confines of the photograph to find its roots in the white hot act of Gothic, across the channel at St. Denis.
In this photograph, this crop and composition - you have my head and soul; but as your eyes linger beyond the bounds of the frame where does the presence of absence take you?
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To avoid the gnarly traffic I sneak off onto the M6 Toll and stop off at Norton Canes Services. I pull up my Waze app on the dash and tap in four letters: L,I,C,H. Within a few seconds, as if to counteract my anticipation, the app completes the words and brings up the name of the next place I am to visit:
If you visit Lichfield not knowing of its tumultuous history you might second guess it by observing the whack and whumph of the cathedral. This place - so small and yet so seismic in the story of these isles - is an architectural wonder.
In the 9th century, Lichfield was the hub of the mighty Mercian power-grab for political hegemony. King Offa (who built that dyke) made it an archbishopric with dominion from the Humber to the Thames.
It lost all that, of course, but you can still see the ripples of consequence through the built record.
The Buildings of Lichfield - Pure Scroll - no words.
Before I bring on the pure scroll - I have to mention one particular channeled view down The Close. It's one of those views that gets better and better as you walk down it.
For me it's the giddy mix of Gothic splendour contrasted against the humble vernacular of the historic buildings in the street.
And, as you walk further into the shadow of the cathedral the contrast is delicately set off by a jaunty timber framed building.
On one particular evening, many years ago I walked down this street following the sound of evensong and took this muddy shot with my old iphone.
Members can view a breathtaking aerial view of Lichfield and the cathedral in gloriouis virtual reality here:
I took coffee at Bistro Number 19 - part of the historic ambience in The Close - it is cheek by jowl to the cathedral.
The exterior of the cathedral is a curious mix - from its early medieval origins it suffered extensive damage during the English Civil War and restoration detail is from that period and later Victorian interventions.
The statue of Charles II was once displayed upon a gable between the two spires.
But, there are some remarkably intricate details around the south elevation including the statue of St. Chad.
The West Front.
The Choir Screen
Designed by Scott and executed by Skidmore, Pevsner says that it is "an ornament to any cathedral".
The Sleeping Children
Memorial from a mother to her lost children, Ellen and Marianne. Displayed in the Royal Academy in London and then moved to Lichfield after the exhibition in 1817.
A special thought for those that have lost children.
The Chapter House
The Chapter House holds an object of real presence and beauty: the Lichfield Angel.
The angel was discovered very recently in 2003 under the nave sanctuary. It harks back to the latter half of the C9th - perhaps during the reign of King Offa and it holds inherent within its design, the echoes of Rome.
Offa is beefing up his intentions for a unified series of kingdoms in the British Isles by replicating the stylistic kudos of the Roman empire. Think of the apse at All Saints Wing form last week's digest.
Offa's building of the dyke along the Welsh border may have been another replication of Hadrian's Wall - more of a political gesture.
Members can view the main west front door decoration in glorious VR here:
Lichfield was the start of a wonderful trip across Mercia into Warwick. All subscribers can see my journey, documented on Polarsteps, here:
I'm trying out my new kettle with my aeropress go.
Strap yourself in, let Woody do the time travelling...Members' Area
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Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.