Monochrome!, That should be easy right!

Hell no! its like having an assignment that asks you to paint in oils, it gives you a tool set then leaves the whole world open to your brushes. The same was true for this assignment, and although I love monochrome photography and have done since I was eight years old, it left me with a camera and no subject.

I do like to create rather convoluted scenarios when working on an assignment, and I have to say that I think I enjoyed producing this more than any other assignment for my degree so far. I have been suffering a lot with some sort of photographic blues fed by my Annus horribilis last year working for the evil empire of lord Voldermort  (no more to be said about that they know who they are) so this assignment needed to kick some life back into my photographic mojo.

I stsrted with my usual set of brain storming around things that could be photographed for the assignment, the idea was to find a subject that lent itself to black an white! Have you ever really thought that through? what subject is there that absolutely can’t be taken in black and white? in fact I am sure there must be a movement out there that argues you should never shoot in colour, everything is fair game. I think this was what helped in the end because it really isn’t about what works well in Black and White it is about what do I want to shoot and what makes me happy making images.

I had spent a fair amount of time over the last year taking images of castles and churches, mostly in bad lighting for assignment 2, and mostly abandoning them. However I had been enjoying taking images of these buildings and an Idea formed that it would be great to make a series with a point.

Once I got going the idea formed rather quickly, I don’t think I could write down how it formed if I tried it was just one of those inspirational things, however, the idea became take an image of a church built in each century of the last millennium, that’s one thousand years of church design.

Sounds good but is it possible, I started to research the original dates of churches and found several key facts, one. every church seems to claim some sort of Norman or  Saxon heritage, often its just that something was there before. So I had to set ground rules, there needed to be a substantial part of the building that qualified for the century. This rule made me walk straight into fact no two, the Victorians were destructive and rather free with our heritage, they seemed to think that it was OK to change add and grow everything rather ruining a lot of old English heritage.

It was very hard to find a church they had not in some way altered. I also realized that in the 1500-1600 there was a reformation and Cromwell and his mob of architectural anarchists had a tendency to knock down churches rather than build them.

It was odd that the easiest years to find were the 1100’s and the 1200’s Hampshire is rather full of churches that fit that bill.

The shooting was a real pleasure I spent several weeks driving all over the countryside taking images of all these lovely little churches, some did not mack the cut for one reason or another, but the photographic process was something of a tonic for me, I discovered and started using a new harness system for carrying my equipment and ended up feeling very good about myself and my photography.

Step ONE Research

This was the hardest part of my assignment, finding the churches to fit the brief, its strange but most churches are not so committed to the facts of their origins but rather to the idea that there has been a church on the site since Saxon times, a fact that in many cases was irrelevant. So the research part was really painful, I spent hours searching the internet looking at church web sites pouring through writing about church buildings looking for some piece of imperial evidence to hook a church to a specific era. I made long lists of churches and entered them all into a GPS enabled bucket list on my iPad, from here I put them into a semblance of order that would make it easy to drive between them. I set myself some very tough shooting targets expecting to get 5 or 6 done in a day, the realty was that on a day when I left the house at 4am to see if getting a foggy church was possible I actually managed 3 in one day. Mostly 1 or two was the rate of progress and often none of them made the final selection.

I did end up with a lot of really good candidates for certain centuries but the final cut would allow for only one. In one case a most beautiful church scouted out the day before had scaffolding all over it the very next day when I got there. I also discovered that the sun is critical to my process, as it is predictable i.e. it rises in the east and sets in the west, it always shines on certain parts of the church each day, so depending on the direction of the best view of a church they could only be photographed at certain times, I also found that churches like big horrid trees that get right in the way making the often best view unworkable.

My 1000 AD church at Holy rood has the most fantastic checkerboard pattern all anong one side that is awful to compose a good image due to the huge trees completely obscuring the view along that side.

Step TWO Setup and Composition

I wanted to create a sense of series for this set of images, to this end I decided that each church needed to be a full three quarter shot in landscape orientation, each one had to show the major feature of architecture that set it in the particular century. I made lists of candidate churches and plotted them on my mapping software. I visited each one and took a survey of the site to help place the church in context for the shot. I also spent a while siting in and around each church taking in the atmosphere to try and get a sense of what I was taking.

Having taken everything in I found that in most cases there was one obvious place to shoot from, in my head I needed to move around and take shots from lots of different angles but in every case the first setup turned out to be the shot I wanted, there was a definite look and feel that came through while doing this assignment. It was not a case of shooting everyone from a particular point on the compass that varied even though all the churches point the same way it was more about the individual building and how it fit into my vision and composition.

The List

So after a lot of research the list is as follows:

1000 AD – Holy Rood Alton

1100 AD – St Mary’s Ashley

1200 AD – St Leonard’s Hartley Wintney

1300 AD – Church of St Mary of the Assumption Upper Froyle

1400 AD – Mattingly Church Hook

1500 AD – St Micheal’s Basingstoke

1600 AD – St Peters Tadley

1700 AD – St Mary’s Old Arlesford

1800 AD – St John’s New Arlesford

1900 AD – Douai Abbey Church Woolhampton

There were many contenders but the image was the final arbiter where there were multiple candidates.

1000 AD
Holy Rood Alton

1000 AD Holy Rood Hollybourne

1000 AD Holy Rood Hollybourne

1000 rood007 When I found this church I was delighted by the intricate patterns in the brick work down one side of the church The problem was that the entire side was obscured by bushes and trees, and there was simply no good place to compose the shot.I tried to acquire the image from three locations as you can see from the diagram.If I tackle them in reverse order:Site D on the diagram, was too close to the church and gave me the wrong angle, one thing I was trying to do is ensure that the images have a consistent look and feel, this close angle gave me reults that looked out of keeping with the rest.Site C would have been my preference as the stone work on that side was absolutely beautiful, however the trees and bushes ruined the composition so this was not feasible.Site B was a bad angle and again it was very different from the rest of the set also there was too much foliage in the way so the angle turned out to be impractical for this seriesI settled on Site A which was across the road from here I could capture the essence of the church, It is worth noting that the top of the steeple is a later addition though much of the church is of the right period. All in all a lovely building characteristic of the century.
1100 AD
St Mary’s Ashley

1100 AD St Mary's Ashley

1100 AD St Mary’s Ashley

1100 Ashley001 St Mary’s at Ashley, is one of my favorites in the series, a delightful church now not used on a regular basis and in the keeping of the church trust. It typifies the 1100’s the brickwork is a joy.As I took images around this church I knew that Site A would be the selection as if offered the most interest,Site B was close and the walls were simply a plain white not much to look atSimilarly Site C was to much white wallSite A and D both worked and gave a pleasant composition however the gravestones with their lichen  simply made site A the best shot.
1200 AD
St Leonard’s Hartley Wintney

1200 AD St Mary's Church Hartley Wintney

1200 AD St Mary’s Church Hartley Wintney

1200 hartley004 St Mary’s at Hartley Wintney was the first one I found and it set the scene and style for the rest of the project. It is a beautiful building now not in service and again under the care of the church trust. I found this place quite by accident looking for a different church that I never did find.Only part of the church is still in the style of the 1200 church the tower being much newer, the end shown in this picture is the oldest part of the church.It was on this shoot that many of the technical difficulties were first encountered, the biggest bane being trees and hedges which block the composition.Site A was chosen because it was the only one that gave the full church and it primarily focuses on the part of the church built in the 1200’s All other sites were cluttered and or too close.
1300 AD
Church of St Mary of the
Assumption Upper Froyle

1300 AD Church of St Mary of the Assumption Upper Froyle

1300 AD Church of St Mary of the Assumption Upper Froyle

1300 froyle005 I struggled to find a church that represented 1300’s and this one at Upper Froyle was the best of them only the white portion in the front of the image is of the period so much of the rest of the church is newer, this project really started to make me despise the Victorians and their heavy handed disregard for everything.There was really only two places to stand and take the image as the church is built very close to its rear border, both sites worked though B suffered a bit with the trees again, however site A offered a very clear view with the period part of the church most prominent, and the classic 1300’s window shown at the end.
1400 AD
Mattingly Church Hook

1400 AD Mattingly Church

1400 AD Mattingly Church

1400 mattingley006 The Church with no name, Mattingly is such a beautiful building displaying the wonderful Tudor herringbone brickThis was the hardest one to shoot as the grounds were so close and grown up, to the rear all sides were obscured by trees Site B was so close none of the church could be seen.In the end I compromised using a very wide angle lens in the gate and corrected the perspective in post.
1500 AD
St Micheal’s Basingstoke

1500 AD St Michaels Church Basingstokr

1500 AD St Michaels Church Basingstokr

1500 basing008 St Michael’s is a really big church and its tight proximity to its surroundings made it hard to shoot, I ended up way across the street in the shopping center to get this angle.
1600 AD
St Peters Tadley

1600 AD St Peters Tadley

1600 AD St Peters Tadley

1600 tadley0021600 tadley003 St Peters at Tadley is a typical local parish church of the 1600’s this was a real problem to find as this marks a period where a lot of churches were desecrated and not many were built.This one is in the middle of nowhere and its a bit of and English country safari to get to it.For a change most of the angles were clear (see the notes) the decision on this image was based on its look and feel and aesthetics
1700 AD
St Mary’s Old Arlesford

1700 AD St Mary's Old Arlesford

1700 AD St Mary’s Old Arlesford

1700 old a009 Its interesting that so many of the churches I found are called St Mary’s, this one is in old Arlesford and is a typical 1700 church.for this image the location was again based on the best composition and having a consistent look for the set.
1800 AD
St John’s New Arlesford

1800 AD St Johns Arlesford

1800 AD St Johns Arlesford

1800 new a010 New Arlesford, everyone moved to the new location to build a bigger town and the church moved too a hundred years after the last church. This was difficult to take as all the angles were very tight and the back of the church totally obscured by trees.I had to climb down almost into a neighbors house and us a wide lens to get this shot.
1900 AD
Douai Abbey Church Woolhampton

1900 AD Douai Abbey Church

1900 AD Douai Abbey Church

1900 douai0111900 douai012 Now you would think 1900’s would be easy, however finding a 1900 church I could get to that was interesting was tough.Douai Abby is the most splendid place, half built in the 1920’s and then finished in 1990’s the back looks Gothic the front like a space ship. Inside is the most amazing light from the huge windows atop the new section, the use of light wood lifts the architecture.The biggest problem is that it being a monastery it is surrounded with buildings so hard to find an angle, it in my opinion sits most heavily in the set not quite fitting with the aesthetic of the series.I think because it is so low in the frame, there was so much in the way in front it was hard to make this image any other way, I love the church but if I had to do more work I might re visit and try to change the angle in some way.

So there it is Assignment 3 took a long time but was one of the most satisfying to complete, I really enjoyed the research and  then going out hunting down the targets, there were many technical issues along the way but I like the final result. I even got to put them all in an exhibition at the Harlequin Center at Fleet library in a big photographic exhibition so they got their moment of fame. The 1100 image of Ashley even scored a 10 in a local print competition so I have had some fun with these images.