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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Rievaulx Abbey Twilight
“I do not believe that ever any building was truly great, unless it had mighty masses, vigorous and deep, of shadow mingled with its surface.”
John Ruskin, The Seven Lamps of Architecture
The type of photograph that I often get asked to take is called the 'hero shot'. It’s a photograph of a building lit up from the inside, just after sunset, when the shadows are deepening. It takes advantage of the contrast between shadow and light.
There’s a small pocket of time in which to get the shot, so at the death of the day I have to be at my most alive, to capture the scene during a period called the ‘blue hour’.
Here are some of my professional shots taken at twilight:
I love the fact that, as well as viewing a day chronologically, it can also be experienced through colour. My Photopills app tells me that these colour changes happen at opposite ends of the day, around the rising and the setting of the sun. In the evening the golden hour occurs at sunset and shortly after that, the predominant colour of the light is on the blue spectrum.
After the blue hour, there is nautical twilight in which the stars and horizon become visible, making navigation at sea possible. The third twilight phase is astronomical twilight which marks the start of the night proper, where the gloaming is gone and most stars in the sky are visible.
My own mood tends to correspond with the changing of the light. Especially at twilight, there’s a feeling of stasis, of reflection, of being blessed at having been a part of the sun’s story - its motion so distinct and apparent at the tipping points of the day. During the evening twilight there’s a melancholy undertone, a lamentation for the fading light. It’s best captured by Peter Davidson in a passage where he describes a view from a twilight walk:
“The sun sinks below the nearest peak. Deep in the distant hills, mountain slopes and high grasslands are flooded in gold. Looking westwards over the darkened fields towards this transient, bright kingdom I am seized by an unreasoned longing to be there in that unreachable temporary paradise at the frontier of the day.”
Twilight is the only part of the day where its transition seems to impact all of the senses. Colours change in an instant, sounds are closer and contained, there’s an earthy aroma as the dew takes hold, and objects become cold to the touch.
Helmsley, North Yorkshire
All photos shot on iPhone
I arrived in Helmsley last week in total darkness. Because I have a kind of home on wheels - I often arrive at my destinations early and then make a coffee on the hob and soak the place up.
This time I was drawn into the town centre by a clinking and chattering. It was 7am.
"What on earth could be going on at this time? I thought.
You know that feeling in the first light in an unfamiliar town? Cold and damp, buildings silhouetted, streets pooled in tungsten light. But in Helmsley I was drawn to the noise and the flickering lights beyond the church tower.
"It can't be. Could it be? Could it really be a market?"
The joy of coming across a busy market (with shops open in the square) during twilight is beyond compare. I made for the local bakery and bought a Danish and Coffee and walked around the square, taking it all in.
I take my trove back to the van in the car park. I switch on the heater and I look out of the window at some lumps and bumps taking shape in the diffused light. They look like they're a part of the castle defences (I find out later that they are). I sit and watch as the sun begins to rise in the east and, as its golden rays filter through the trees, I see a dark shadow, a massing behind them.
It's the castle, and it looks as though it's hovering above the ring-ditch, framed by a fringe of light on the grass. The only camera I have with me is my iPhone, so I set it on RAW and fire away. I zoom into the scene as if in disbelief. It looks like a mirage, ghostly.
Twilight is the best time of day.
Helmsley Village Buildings
I was at the castle for a Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) Yorkshire tour of the conservation works at the castle.
The original medieval castle evolved into a Tudor Mansion which is now undergoing essential repairs. Here are some photos from the visit.
All Saints, Helmsley
I walk in to the churchyard at All Saints and spot a festive sprig of holly. I get my iPhone out and try and take a macro shot of the berries and leaves. In doing so, I get my hood caught on the spiky leaves.
It's a new coat, so I take my time and elaborately snake my head and shoulders around until I'm nearly there. I then stand on my tiptoes and summon up a little wiggle and hey presto! I'm undone.
From behind I hear a voice: "Are you trying to take a selfie with the holly bush?"
There's a queue of people waiting behind me on the path..
I take a moment and then walk up to the church and enter through the Romanesque door - they're all there, of course, the holly people - helping set up the Christmas tree competition.
The church is medieval in origin, but has been much altered. The chancel arch has some surviving Norman work with beakheads.
But the real treasure in the church is the early C10th Hogback Tombstone. The design is of Viking origin, and it is likely that this was used for the grave of a local descended from Danish aristocracy.
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These are the days I'm grateful for the heater in the van and the sizzle of bacon on the hob.
I have a new kettle - but it won't whistle (it's supposed to) - so the jury is out. I love the design - based upon a curling iron. Maybe that's why it won't whistle - it's a kettle that wants to be a curling iron.
On My Coffee Table
Lancashire’s Bank Hall restored to former glory | The National Lottery Heritage Fund
Thanks to National Lottery support, the Grade II* listed Bank Hall has completed its extraordinary renovation journey and can welcome visitors to explore its heritage.
Some of my commissioned pics of Bank Hall
Film and Sound
BBC Sounds - Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel - Available Episodes
🚐 👂Listened to this in the van whilst travelling through Wales this week. Wonderfully evocative exposition for the home library.
From the Twittersphere
Way to go, Rebecca! Just received my Friends of Friendless Churches mag on the mat - it looks lovely on the paper they have used.
From the Shop
Wray Castle and the Langdale Pikes, Cumbria, England. – Digital Print.
This is one of my favourite photos taken in the Lake District. Click the link for more...
Members and Patrons Corner
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Comperandum: The Pelican Symbol (New Additions)
Full Insight: Helmsley Castle Tudor Mansion Conservation (inc VR)
Heads Up: My latest Polarsteps Journey - follow me live
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Wallpaper: Free Architecture Wallpaper Collection
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Genius Loci Digest: Access the full index here
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The Comperandum: a nod to Banister Fletcher here
Ways of Seeing: Learn how to be curious
Treasure Hoard Gazetteer
Andy Marshall’s Treasure Hoard Gazetteer Map
My Treasure Hoard Map is open to all. It is an evolving enterprise and I’ll be adding more entries as time passes.
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Here's lookin' at you, kid! The emus of Wilton say thanks to Rebecca for such a lovely portrait. Missed the Wilton edition? Here it is.