Using the ‘pilgrimage’ theme in landscape, I went on a journey across London’s churches that took in the ‘Monument’ to the Fire of London. These are just a few small snapshots of a few great buildings from the past juxtaposed against a modern reality that cannot even have been dreamed of when rebuilding the capital began in 1666. The lines of the buildings offer almost limitless potential to exploit perspective.
There are also unexpected resonances, for example the city church that offers refreshment at lunchtimes to city workers. The church was full of office workers dining in the cool of the nave, but one waitress agreed to pose for the photograph in front of the sanctuary. I loved the surreal ‘romance’ of this – the act of service, the beauty of the person and the surroundings, the working of a church in the modern age.
This, and the candles and statue ‘tableaux’ I came across (4th image at the very top) in another of the churches we visited on the pilgrimage route, evoked for me the famous tableaux of the photographer Gregory Crewdson, and it was partly with these in mind that I tried to create the waitress ‘tableaux’. Sometimes, photographs just ‘appear’ and the moment has to be seized. Other times, the photographer has to ‘create’ them working with the surrounding environment and the available resources.
One of the sites I photographed was the old Roman Baths in London, near The Thames.
The end result, a stained-documentary feel through the glass from the pavement outside, was a photograph that I was able to see the opportunity for and take having researched a little of what was possible in the work of photographers such as Wolfgang Tillmans.
Health and safety
Photography in large cities such as London, especially if you are working on your own, has numerous health and safety hazards.
- Boundaries. Photographing the baths, above, was tricky because they were beautifully photogenic, with the sole inconvenience being the presence of people and the very 20th century viewing rail. In the end, the only usable photograph was through the stained mossy window from outside into the bath, and a silver filter gives the impressions of age. The temptation to go outside the restricted viewing area to get a better but illicit shot was real, but had to be resisted.
- Roads and traffic, people and motorised. It is easy to get caught up in the moment of finding the perfect shot, and end up in the middle of a road, trip up over a pavement or step, fall down a sudden drop, find oneself barging without looking into a group of schoolkids on a day out. In the latter case, it is particularly important to be aware, so as not to cause injury to a child (or adult) with a piece of protruding equipment such as a non-retracted tripod. The watchwords at all time must be care and courtesy
- Criminals. It is important to be careful not to engage in conversation with strangers, especially strangers who are clearly not other photographers, who might be expressing curiosity in the value of your equipment, or where they can find you on social media and so forth. Be aware at all times of the potential for theft, stalking and other forms of violence and harassment.
- Laws surrounding photographs. No-one wants to be arrested or fined. It is important to be aware that in London and other places, the well-worn adage that you can photograph who and what you want in any public space is not actually the case. In London, for example, there are restrictions on commercial photography in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. It is also important to be aware of the laws around harassment, of people who do not wish their photograph taken, and of indecency. There is a helpful summary of some of this here.
I took these photographs thinking of the film stills photographer Cindy Sherman. The drama of the character in traditional attire against the now-famous London landscape looking south across the river, and ‘praying’ against the famous ‘London stone’, comes over particularly well in black and white.