I was working on the Channel Islands last week shooting a number of fine and recently completed retail spaces. The last one was in St Helier, in a prime location on the high street surrounded by quality establishments but pretty much the same ones you might see anywhere in the UK or Europe. All the big brands were there but directly opposite the store I was photographing was a rather different space. One that had seen better days certainly but one that also had a personality and charm of it’s own and neatly contrasted with the homogenised shops everywhere else.
Whilst waiting for the light to fall I went and spoke to the proprietor who I found seated in a little glass booth in the middle of the shop surrounded by decades of remaindered stock and predominately empty shelves.
We had a short ten minute conversation but amazingly were able to cover international banking, island life, the internet, the upholstery trade, shopping habits as well as a run down of the history of both his shop and his family history. It was around closing time so I asked if I could take a few pictures to which the proprietor agreed, but I had just started when he ushered me out in a polite but firm manner that could not be easily countered. So regrettably I wasn’t able to do the portrait I hoped to shoot and neither was I able to really do justice to his amazing shop, but here is what I did get in the bag in those last few minutes…
I was at Broadcasting House earlier this week doing an editorial shoot. As usual I had some time to wander the space before getting set up and these are a couple of the snaps I took enroute.
The first is looking down the atrium from the 7th floor to the ground floor. The second is the view from the 6th floor towards Oxford Circus with the unmistakable spire of the Nash designed All Souls Church.
One of the most precious photography books in my collection is Brassai’s “Paris de Nuit”. This was given to me by my father about 20 years ago and is a well loved copy which detracts from it’s monetary value (it remains the most valuable book I own despite the wear) but in no way detracts from the images. These images, along with those of Sudek have formed one of the back-bone of my photographic education. Interestingly though, I never felt moved to emulate any of their work at the time. But last year, or it may have been the year before, I spent a number of winter nights tramping around the streets of Canterbury doing a Canterbury de Nuit series.
By way of background to Brassai, this Hungarian born photographer forms part of that rich stream of photographers that flowed out of Europe during the early part of the 20C. He worked mainly in Paris and died there in 1984, after a life of work in photography. His commercial commissioned work is largely forgotten now but his legacy of personal work is formidable.
Coming from a land where most building is pretty new (and new does not always mean good!) and the few 17C and 18C buildings that do exist are regarded as ancient monuments, I have long harboured a fascination with the old architecture of my adopted homeland, Britain. Here ancient really does mean ancient. My exploration of the Cathedral over the last couple of years and more particularly it’s roof structures has led me to look more closely at other old timber structures in the county.
Tithe barns are an interesting case in point. They are uniformly old, most dating from the 13 or 14C and more interestingly they reveal their inner most secrets without any attempt to hide or disguise how they are put together. It’s all there and as been so for centuries.
Most tithe barns in this country are timber-famed structures, in contrast to the preference for stone on mainland Europe. I visited the Woolton Barn recently. The structure has had some more recent soft wood restoration but it is essentially a 15C oak structure with the two ends glazed where there would normally be timber cladding. This last feature makes the building very light (not a common feature in buildings of this sort) and enables it to be kept in use all year round.
I love the raw and sculptural quality of the timbers and the fact that they have remained doing their job for so long.
A short note on tithe barns in general: these structures were built throughout Europe to contain the 10% of produce that everyone was obliged to give to the church. They were usually located near a centre of activity like a Monastery, Abbey, Church or Cathedral.
Although all shot in colour, I have presented most of these as Black & White images as this emphasises the structure and because I increasingly feel that unless there is a clear visual or commercial imperative, there is little need for colour!
The next barn I look at will be an older 14C building with a slightly more complex structure and a very much darker interior. But it exists in it’s original location with pretty much all the original timbers in place.
Following on from my last post of Jan’s pictures a couple of weeks ago (http://wp.me/p32AWy-3V), here are some of his rural views.
He was interested in structure and it is rare to find figures or life of any kind in his images. Whilst this may be a shame from some points of view, it does somehow set his images apart and makes them all the more enticing.
(These files were scanned from his original prints all of which were dry-mounted on to board and many of which are now rather bowed making the scanning process at times rather challenging)