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"Because the literacy of light and shade is comprehensible by all, regardless of language. Seeing is, literally, believing…"
It was a breakdown that led me to my career in photography. It set me up on a journey which I'm writing about in my book "A Singular Point of Light".
My journey was a quest to find out what it was that helped me overcome my breakdown and ultimately be free of a debilitating depression.
I have to admit that my exploration was partly out of fear of falling back into depression, but also out of curiosity. I needed to understand what aspects had gifted me a new resilience and, once discovered, I felt a profound need to share it with others.
I had always treated the day of my breakdown as ground zero in my creative pilgrimage, but soon discovered that I was picking up a baton that I had dropped many years before.
At times replete with light and structure, with my camera in hand, I’ve felt a completeness that has grafted me into the day, and prolonged its luminosity like a childhood summer.
My recovery had something to do with light and something to do with its interaction with buildings.
I’m stood outside the porch, ready to photograph the rising sun behind a copse in the churchyard at All Saints, Billesley. The morning light has washed the fold of the day, until it strengthens its grip and ignites strange lumps and bumps in the nearby fields revealing the site of a deserted village. As the clouds evaporate, I take a few photographs and feel my confidence rising.
Momentarily, the sun flares out above the haze, and the church becomes the touch-paper to an explosion of colour amongst the swaying tree canopy. Summoned by a blast of light through the porch from the east window, I enter the pocket-sized nave.
Cradled within the south transept are two stone carvings. They are from earlier builds of the church on this site. One carved piece shows the form of a man being chased by an open-mouthed serpent-dragon. The stone was originally part of a twelfth century Romanesque tympanum from over a doorway.
The floor below the tympanum holds a second carving of Romanesque origin. Muddied by the shadows, I can just make out the outline of a pattern. Later on in the day, when the sun has swung to the west, the lump of stone takes on a completely different aspect, and I sit for an hour and watch its story unfold.
"Later on in the day, when the sun has swung to the west, the lump of stone takes on a completely different aspect, and I sit for an hour and watch its story unfold."
I’ve seen carvings like this in museums where the snaking patterns are sanitised by a single source of artificial light. On the stone at Billesley, the light moving across the surface appears to unlock a textured narrative.
At first the surface looks stagnant and isolated until the light pools along the transept floor. Then, with lime-wash as an unscripted reflector, a harsh light induces an abstract three dimensionality. Its surface is more faceted than textured - a prologue to the story unfolding. Several minutes later, the light moves onto the tip of the stone and a shift in colour and texture takes place.
As the carving softens, a frame emerges from the deepening shadows, outlining the fledgling pattern. With my heart rate slowing and the shifting light now discernible, new chapters unfold. A hollowed out crows face morphs into a heart pierced by a vine tendril; a deepened cavity emerges and becomes central to a cross like that of St. Cuthbert.
And again the slab softens, is metamorphic, with the light revealing and concealing, redeeming and forfeiting sections of stone. Acutely angled, the light enriches the relief and pricks out an etched matrix on top of the interlocking pattern. The stone is no longer dense and unyielding, but particled; a sugared surface with a glinting patina. Like a precious baubled ring, the carving becomes the clawed setting, the movement of light upon it the jewel.
"Like a precious baubled ring, the carving becomes the clawed setting, the movement of light upon it the jewel."
The light waxing leads to stasis, and the wavering of the day invokes a momentary communion with the Romanesque carver. This piece of stone, with the assemblage of skill, time and light has propagated an act of visual magic. The warmth of the sun and its passage over the stone has unravelled the carvers intent: the visual storyboarding of the surface. I have parity with a world that operates upon a different orbit: an elongated time-scale.
"The warmth of the sun and its passage over the stone has unravelled the carvers intent: the visual storyboarding of the surface. I have parity with a world that operates upon a different orbit: an elongated time-scale."
Before this day, the pre-conditions for my appreciation of art had been blurred by my quick-fire existence. Before this day, I might stand for a moment and see the unleavened, hard-tooled stone without really seeing.
Photographs and words by Andy Marshall (unless otherwise stated). Most photographs are taken with Iphone 14 Pro and DJI Mini 3 Pro.