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.
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.
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.