I’ve been following a blog called experiments in experience for a little while now, as it’s author, Verena Fischer captures street imagery in Berlin. She shoots exclusively in black and white, and whilst I wouldn’t shoot everything that she captures (I’m sure she’d feel the same about my photographs) the medium does work well in conveying a gritty, true to life feel.
This is my last weekend in this phase of my life, before I leave Sunderland and South Tyneside to begin a new adventure, and so as I was heading into town for a last-minute stock up on bubble wrap I decided to make it my final location here, at least for a while. I wasn’t immediately inspired by a town where photography is seen as such a fine art as to be worthy of combination with this service though…
Still, having got the supplies I needed, I made my way back to my car down a small alleyway that has often intrigued me, and where I have taken pictures before. In its few yards it contains three strange objects which many walk by on their way to shops and football matches, yet I wonder how many give them any thought. They intrigued me for years until I considered what lies beneath. They are directly in line with the rail station and are ventilation shafts to a rail tunnel below.
These great triplets are not the source of my fascination however, for deeper in the alley’s darker recesses there is treasure to be found. The side entrance of what was once a hotel remains as a two-dimensional reminder of past glories. It is now no more that a facade on the side of one of the shops of High Street, but I have come here many times to enjoy its incongruent beauty in decay. I believe it is all that is left of The Three Crowns, an establishment that closed in the year I was born.
Whilst there I was joined by a few pigeons so made them the focus of my attention for a while. I was hoping to strike lucky with an image of shopper and pigeon in step together but it didn’t work out. More often than not the birds would be scared back to their perch above the bar, so I turned my attention back to its tiled exterior. I’ve shot this scene a few times, but have never been entirely happy with the result. The angle of the alley makes lighting a challenge, but today it was in my favour. I deliberately underexposed to give richness to the shadows and then burnt the highlights back in when processing the image later. Far from being a ruin in a dirty alley it now has a more stately, even ecclesiastical feel about it.
Perhaps this was a nod to my new home, a small city with a religious history. The resting place of St Cuthbert, having been carried from Lindisfarne by monks in search of a suitable spot. They found a meander in the River Wear which was suitably imposing, though the subsequent construction of a magnificent Norman cathedral added to its majesty. The adjacent castle seems insignificant by comparison. I am of course referring to Durham, and what has become a World Heritage Site.
Where the view beneath the Wear Bridge in Sunderland had been of tyres and traffic cones embedded in the tidal mud, here the water bounced pure colour into my lens; water so inviting it demanded you join in and play with it. Another day maybe. I’ve learned to my cost to keep water and camera at a safe distance from one another!
The necessity of man to give way to topography in building this city is there in the conflicting lines that give drama to an image. In this case they take you all the way from the waterline at the river’s edge to the castle and beyond. The Cathedral had its moment in this blog quite recently so it can stay out of shot today. There is a sense of beauty and optimism about the place which is even reflected in a car park. How many car parks do you see commemorating something as special as this…