Once again, I find myself back in the English town of Beverley in Yorkshire trying to capture an elusive scene. I’d always had it in my mind that knowledge of the sun rising at a particular point in time might be used to fashion its interplay with a building as a sculptor might shape a piece of clay. I’ve been trying to put my theory into action with Beverley Minster for over ten years.
I walk out from the town centre towards Westwood Common with the Minster silhouetted behind me. I’m thinking of the countless times I’ve made this journey. I remember the cold pinch of twilight on my face, the salmon-pink glimmer along the horizon, the low of the cattle on the common. But most of all I remember the times I was accompanied by my father.
He’s not here with me now. Dad died of prostate cancer in 2008. He spent many days in his latter years stood beside me watching my process, including the days of failure caught before the minster on Westwood Common. With hindsight, I realise now, that he was there to witness his son grow as a photographer, rather than see the sun rise over the minster. He was also there to guide his son through failure and frustration and to feed him words that might give him the courage to try again.
It’s no surprise that, on this day, I quell my expectations. All too often I’ve been stoppered by a fog bank or fast moving clouds from the east, but today the dawn is full of promise as it tops a wan sky with ochre hues.
And then it happens, I can’t quite believe it — a slip of light — a cuticle sun.
I work with patience and knowing. The years of failure have steadied my resolve and, as I weave through the gorse with my camera and tripod, my mind threads between the past and the present. I feel the presence of dad, steadying my hand as I press the shutter button.
It’s done, I’ve managed to capture the view I’ve dreamt of for over a decade.
During the final minutes of dawn, as the sun dissolves into the great blue, and with the scene finally pocketed within my camera, I stop, put away my equipment, and take in the view. I feel an unravelling, a need to let go and find myself crying uncontrollably: partly for what I’ve achieved over time, but mostly for what I have lost.
As you can imagine, the moments spent on the common weren’t wasted. They helped sustain a connection with dad and also helped me move on in my career.
The photos taken on that day also led to my ‘light-sculpting’ technique being published in Amateur Photographer magazine as a pro-tip.
Perhaps the most satisfying project that came out of the photography from that day was a commission to photograph Beverley Minster itself. I spent several wonderful days photographing the interior and exterior for a book by historian Jonathan Foyle.