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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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Life saving lichen at All Saints, Grafham, Cambridgeshire.
"Make a Pilgrimage, Go to ancient places, Go everywhere there are contemporary seekers. Go in whatever way it works out. Just Go!"
Jini Fiennes, On Pilgrimage
I'm lodging at Grafham in Cambridgeshire and I decide to walk the mile to the pub from the campsite. The lanes are full of bobbing cowslip and blossoming hawthorn. The community pub is just beyond the centre of the village, but before I arrive, there’s a loud crack from a darkening cloud on the other side of the village.
I stand outside the village church of All Saints and watch the clouds massing to the south. They move fast, and within minutes, I’m in the eye of the storm. I do what countless others have done before me and head for the church porch. Thankfully the door is open and I duck inside as the heavens swell and rain beats down onto the roof. I stand inside the porch and watch the chaos outside. Everything is full and swollen - the sodden ground, the breaching gutter, the pregnant atmosphere. Birds that are normally so predictable in their movement are frantically flapping into the storm and then cutting back on themselves. I’m still caught up in my world - recording the puddled rain, taking photos, posting out on social media.
Then I do something incredibly stupid. I think a selfie might be a good idea - a pic of me in the porch - so I run out into the churchyard and place my iPhone onto the top of a monument. It falls over, I try and balance it with a windblown twig. I’m getting soaked. It falls over again and then - just as I manage to lodge it up behind a stone - there’s a tumultuous flash and crash and I’m blinded for a second. I run back into the porch blinking my eyes in a vain attempt at reviving my bleached retina. I'm guided back to safety by a potent line of yellow lichen that underpins the church and stops directly at the buttress next to the porch.
When I get there I turn around, put on an air of normality, tap the remote on my watch and pose for the camera. After I retrieve my phone, my mood crashes down to earth. Why on earth did I do that? I feel bruised by my foolishness.
The storm refuses to abate and it looks likely that I will be here for at least an hour. I turn into the porch and catch something out of the corner of my eye. I can just make out indentations on the west wall. My eyes haven’t fully adjusted from the flash of lightning but, as I become accustomed to the shadows, I can see a face.
"My eyes haven’t fully adjusted from the flash of lightning but, as I become accustomed to the shadows, I can see a face."
It belongs to a medieval slab with an effigy of a priest. Dotted around the flint wall are other remnants from previous times, bits of buildings - perhaps a door jamb and a hood mould.
As the storm roars outside I start to explore the wall. My enforced residency drops me into the moment. I read the lettering on two memorial stones that make up the bottom half of the wall. I explore the differences in style and weight - the earlier stone is in latin and has a formality that betrays a different age than the later one, which is looser and more lyrical. I think of the people they represent.
I touch the letters and follow the curve of the ‘r’ in March and notice rising damp beneath the lettering. On the damp and darkened stain is a living world of lichen set out like a galaxy.
My heart rate has slowed and my senses are awakening - the atmosphere is saturated, carrying the pungent aroma from the battered hawthorn in the field next to the churchyard. Time slows down. I have become 'of' the place rather than in it.
After nearly getting lost in the social media cosmos, I found, in a small patch of porch wall, a universe in the particular. From the stories of others writ large upon the walls, this has become a place that is woven into my story. In the wake of the tom-foolery of the selfie, this place is more than just a sanctuary, it is a respite and a re-set from my 21st-century self.
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Out of sorts.
I head down the country via a circuitous route towards Portsmouth. I have a photo shoot at a medical facility in the city centre.
I get a bit caught up in myself every now and again - become a bit too obsessive. I worry enormously about maintaining standards and obsessing about detail. Like many creatives - it comes from a low self-esteem, a kind of imposter syndrome.
My way out of this kind of anxiety is to ground myself in the buildings around me - to stop and take in the differences, look upwards, look beyond. Others do the same - in their gardens, out in nature, with their hobbies.
It doesn't come naturally to me but, over the years, through my vocation as a photographer, I've developed a sense of playful curiosity. Curiosity is infectious and connective.
"It doesn't come naturally to me but, over the years, through my vocation as a photographer, I've developed a sense of playful curiosity. Curiosity is infectious and connective."
If you find yourself in a place and feel out of sorts - be curious.
Look for the story of the place. Look at the materials being used in the buildings - why flint and not stone? Why are all the houses in this village made of timber? Why all the buildings in this town have a curvy pantile?
Then look at the styles. Why, for example, is Bath so classical and York so Gothic?
Then try and seek out details - what is the embossed lead plaque on the brick wall? Why is the glass in the sash window full of imperfections? Beyond that look at the patterns, and beyond that, at how nature has co-existed with our buildings - the Buddleia behind the chimney or the lichen on the wall.
I love drilling down from a complex construct of the past (such as a cathedral) to the patina on its walls which holds more complexity than the building itself. A universe in the particular.
"I love drilling down from a complex contruct of the past (such as a cathedral) to the patina on its walls which holds more complexity than the building itself. A universe in the particular."
Even though I was brought up near to a big city (Manchester), I've always felt a little out of sorts in big places. I find the modernity and change of pace a bit soulless. It was for this reason that I wasn't looking forward to visiting Portsmouth - but I was wrong, of course - for in Portsmouth's historic waterfront I found a place that enlivened my curiosity.
My route takes me along High Street into Broad Street and then back along Penny Street.
I love how the built form can be impacted by its location and Portsmouth is no exception: from crab door knockers to longitudinal portals.
There's a lovely mix of vernacular with the polite facades of a Georgian or Regency House.
Two charming Georgian houses on High Street in Portsmouth. Their listing states that the interiors haven’t been inspected. I suspect that there might be older buildings behind the facades.
The Buildings of Portsmouth - Pure Scroll - no words
My Portsmouth Photo Footprint
I find the most delightful little place for coffee and a Danish on Broad Street.
Bonds of Friendship Memorial
The Monument commemorates the sailing from Spithead on 13 May 1787 of the first fleet conveying settlers to Australia. The Block of Granite was quarried in New South Wales and given by the Citizens of Sydney, Australia. Unveiled by the Queen on 11th July 1980.
Members can view the Bonds of Friendship monument in Augmented Reality (and in your own living room) via the link below. Can be viewed on any device.
When I think of a cathedral city, Portsmouth doesn't come on top of my list. Yet Portsmouth's cathedral is quite unique, and has grown and receded, and then grown again, alongside the major epochs in this nation's history.
More than any other cathedral, Portsmouth has a complicated and layered history that, unusually, includes some major C20th interventions. Luckily, I found somebody on hand, with a model, to explain all the different phases of the cathedral. A kind of churchcrawlers lego.
The English Civil War saw the ruin of the Gothic tower and nave which was re-instated in a classical style in the reign of King Charles II. The nave was extended in the early C20th but war intervened. The structure we see today was eventuallly finished in the late C20th.
Portsmouth Cathedral Interior
The yellow bits
Mid-C13th wall painting of Christ seated in judgement.
The red bits
Royal coat of arms over Mayor's seat.
The modern font
The green and blue bits
There's a fab collection of VR videos of the interior at Portsmouth for Members. They can be viewed on any device. Click the link below to see them.
Have introduced a couple of cushions that hold a bit of nostalgia. Cushions with a textile from the London Underground decor with that hard brushed embossing.
V'envy in Portsmouth
Listening in the van...
I buy a pilgrim passport in the shop at Portsmouth Cathedral to augment my camper-van-camino. The lady in the shop puts it in a bag and hands it over. I take it out of the bag and place it on the desk and look at her with a smile.
"Oh!" she says.
There ensues a kerfuffle of opening draws and seeking keys until finally the stamp is found!
I shall enjoy these moments, the bit between asking for the stamp and the cathedral staff trying to find it.
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.