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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.
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Castle Malgwyn Bridge spanning Afon Teifi in Cardiganshire, Wales, complete with triangular cutwaters, has a date stone of 1656.
"Taking pictures is savouring life intensely, every hundredth of a second."
"There are things that live through us, or want to express themselves through us and if we could just get out of the way, we would do exactly what we are meant to be doing."
It's remarkable how some places - buildings, parks, landscapes can change a perception or move you on into a different direction. Some places are saturated with meaning, and it just takes a few silent, uncomplicated moments to stop, see and listen to what they have to say. St. John the Baptist in Inglesham was a place that taught me how to see.
The church sits at the end of a lane at the meeting point of two rivers: the Thames and the Coln. It’s a humble looking building, made up of a simple two cell plan with an interior full of filtered light. Tamped within its angled walls are several hundred years of history that seems to leach into the honeycombed pockets of space.
One day, many years ago, whilst photographing Inglesham, I became the instrument and not the camera.
My intention, on that day, was to take a photograph that captured the layering of the space, so I chose a zoom lens with a focal length that would pull, concertina like, the rooms together. To add an extra layer to the final image, I positioned my tripod outside the porch to embrace the door. I felt like an archaeologist, uncovering the stratigraphy of the church with my camera.
I stood for some time with my bag and tripod, checking the sun’s movement through an app on my device. Whilst I waited, I double checked my camera settings and fine tuned the composition. Deeper into my task I stalked the light. Its angled presence was needed to embolden the parclose and enliven the walls. When the light reached the nave, I fired off a few shots for review. As I thumbed through the images, the click of the function wheel made the camera sound like it was purring. I reduced the exposure to take into account the extra light in the space. A burgeoning glow brought on a faster pace of review. When the shadows lengthened, I set about the golden section: lining up the stiff-leaf capitals and intersecting doors.
"When the shadows lengthened, I set about the golden section: lining up the stiff-leaf capitals and intersecting doors."
But the light was too strong, until an hour later, after several stops of camera calibration, the arcading took root and grew in contrast against the lime-washed wall. The space began to hover, refreshed and bathed in a golden light, with textures fizzing in the low-angled sun. I placed my face against the camera and felt the cup of the viewfinder on my cheek. I felt as if I was in the space, rather than observing it. The camera was ready, the building composed, the mind engaged.
The final photograph is one of my most cherished; created by a type of photographical dowsing. It was taken from an intuitive route of beating heart, purring machine and sun-spindled spaces.
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A Holy Trinity of Churches.
After a long day of photography at Bloxham in Oxfordshire, I lodge with a friend, Steve with the camper hooked up via a wire through a window in his house.
Steve knows these parts well and takes me on a trip into the evening light - a journey that takes on three churches - three churches that encompass several hundred years of history.
And so, I find myself once more at a place so pivotal in my development as a photographer. Every now and then I need to go to a place where nothing changes. A place that dissolves the pressing moments of the day. A space where the walls will soak up the detritus of the modern world .
That place, for me, is Inglesham.
St. John the Baptist, Inglesham, Wiltshire.
I was lucky enough to meet the late Candida Lycett Green many years ago. She was giving a talk on churches and used some of my photographs of Inglesham. She had fond memories of travelling down the Thames with her father, John Betjeman and lunching at Inglesham.
Perhaps Betjeman was inspired by Inglesham when he wrote in his Churchyards poem:
"Our churches are our history shown
In wood and glass and iron and stone."
Every inch of Ingelsham is steeped in history from the lettering on the walls
to the hinges on the box pews...
Inglesham is so unusual with its partition and parclose - small spaces that are delineated by punctured screens that cast shadows like zebra hide in all directions.
I've spent so long visiting and photographing this place that I've grown to realise that Inglesham has a particular quality of light that is refined and percolated into the building.
Not many churches have their original consecration marks surviving on the walls from its first day of use in the C13th, after its Saxon core was expanded upon.
Several hundred years have given the walls a rare patina - one that only comes with time. One that allows the spaces to hover on the cusp of the present.
It isn't without intervention. Our C21st selves are driven by the shiny and the new, to paint over and to scrape off. When William Morris helped repair the church in the 1880's - his motto was 'minimum intervention'.
Some buildings, by the happy accident of their construction, allow us to re-connect with our feelings, in the same way that Betjeman expressed his feelings through the built form. In his poem Death in Leamington - he depicts the end of a life through the building:
Do you know that the stucco is peeling?
Do you know that the heart will stop?
From those yellow Italianate arches
Do you hear the plaster drop?
During the church reconsecration - the Saxon Madonna and Child - (which bore the vagaries of the weather outside, and had the misfortune to be used as a scratch dial to measure the canonical hours) was brought inside, as a matter of continuity, and survives resplendent in the side chapel.
In this little church of scintillating Gothic, the Madonna is an anomaly. The stylistic references to Rome and the Byzantime are obvious. The mid to late Saxon period saw an increase in references to Rome and its material culture as a way of underpinning the legitimacy of kings. The insertion of the carving into the wall of the 'new' building helps keep the Anglo Saxon backstory alive through the material culture.
It is the layering up of ages that strikes me most - that peculiarly pre-modern and comforting disregard for symmetry and 'perfection'.
J.B Priestley equated the time continuum to an omelette.
Add Inglesham to the mix and time is a soufflé. Inglesham is like an odd bend in the road of time.
This lovely little country church is looked after by The Churches Conservation Trust and inside, on an information board, they share a poem from an anonymous author that rings true:
Defeated? A Sonnet to Empty Churches
Come on. You lot have survived worse things:
Black Death, Plague and two World wars,
The Reformation (Cromwell clipped the wings Of angels in the roof); and there are scars
On ancient faces, marble noses cropped And poppy heads beheaded like the King;
And modern vandals too. But you've not stopped
Your ageless plain ability to sing
Of something quite indifferent to the now;
Built with a trusting love and potent faith
You stand there still in testament to how
Beauty is not a wafted fleeting wraith,
A ghost which chance can whimsically destroy;
You can be filled, if not by faith, with joy.
St. George, Hampnett, Gloucestershire
I talk about modern interventions - and this church, for me (and perhaps not for you) has a Victorian paint scheme that enhances the space in the church. The fabric is mainly C12th and C15th but the paint scheme is of the 1870's from the hand of the incumbent at the time.
The details here are C12th with two doves depicted on the capitals of the outer order.
Members can view the glorious interior of Hampnett in beautiful VR (no goggles needed - works on any device) by clicking the box below:
St. Leonard's, Stowell Park Estate, Yanworth, Gloucestershire
When Betjeman wrote
"Our churches are our history shown
In wood and glass and iron and stone."
Perhaps he should have added paint - but his syncopation might have suffered.
St. Leonard's on the Stowell Park Estate in Gloucestershire has a medieval doom painting that depicts the sifting of souls. It is remarkable because of its age - thought to date from around 1050 - late Saxon times. Perhaps the person that painted this knew the stone carver of the Madonna and Child at Inglesham.
The sifting of souls. Good souls = sifted. Bad souls = grated. 🤔
The days are getting warmer and longer. The extra light is a bonus.
Before I bought Woody I thought that I might follow the trend for a camper with all of the windows blacked out. I'm so glad that I didn't. To have the clarity of the connection with landscape and vista is so important - especially in a small space. If I need privacy, I just close the curtains. Woody's curtains have a reflective coating on the outside so as to keep the heat out. It works really well.
Woody is such an integral part of my process now that I've started blending him into the architectural landscape.
Woody at Inglesham
Woody at the Stowell Park Estate.
Woody's van life gallery has been updated with new photos and videos, tips and tricks:
This is more than just a coffee table book. Many of the concepts outlined by Sophie Howarth correspond with the techniques I've learnt and absorbed over 20 years of photography. The photography quotes I've used in today's digest have come from this book.
Being mindful hasn't improved my photography, photography has helped me become more mindful.
Listening in the van...
Thanks to his famous 'Postscript' broadcasts in 1940, heard by nearly half the adult population of Britain, JB Priestley was our second most important leader after Churchill, according to Graham Greene. The spirit expressed in those broadcasts was later embodied in the post-war establishment of the Welfare State, and later on Priestley's radical spirit saw him become one of the main figures in the creation of CND.
If you missed last week's digest - you'd better take a look 👀
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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.