Redemption (SOS)

Christians believe that Jesus redeemed the world from sin by sacrificing himself for the sake of all humanity, and yes before I get picked apart by theologians I know that’s a simplistic explanation!  Nevertheless the message of redemption is an important one – the largest Christian statue in the world is called Christ the Redeemer after all.

Anyway, before I get to drawn into a debate with those of faith let me get on with this post, which is about redemption.

In my earlier post, Sagrilege, I expressed my reservations about Gaudí’s great cathedral the Sagrada Familia, based upon the disparity of styles on the two visible facades and the sheer excess of the decoration.  Could the interior provide redemption?

Most people are familiar with the Sagrada’s exterior; it has been a feature of the Barcelona skyline for over a century, but the interior is less well-known.  It was only in the last few years that the scaffolding and builders were withdrawn, allowing the Pope to consecrate the building as a basilica as recently as 2010.  Naturally in the intervening years there have been millions of visitors so the relative mystery will doubtless be short-lived.

Like the facades, the interior is rich in symbolism, individual pillars and doors each carry different insignia, with different areas of the church given over to different categories.  The four main pillars at the heart of the church for example bear glazed plaques representing each of the four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, plaques that seem to glow in the rich light that pervades the church.  There are images on floors, symbols on capitols, a magic square in the doorway.

All of this is easy to miss when you are overwhelmed by the space within the building, space created by Gaudí’s unique architectural approach.  I referred to columns, but perhaps a better description would be trees, for the way they branch out into formations like spiky leaves it is easy to see Gaudí drawing on nature for inspiration.

But even the architecture is subservient to another feature.  Perhaps I was lucky with the weather conditions on the day, but the whole edifice was awash with light and colour.  White light from higher windows and a circular skylight above the altar, and great blocks of colour created by stained glass, which instead of adopting the tradition of multi-coloured representations, restricted itself to  single colour fields which were far more dramatic.

Did Gaudí redeem himself?

In spades.

sagrada int-4




L’illusione della Luce (Venezia 159)

The Illusion of Light was part of the exhibit at Palazzo Grassi that inspired me to consider this project, but in this city it’s so much more than that; it’s the dappled patterns reflecting on coloured plaster, the morphing reflections on the surface of the canals, and as here, the twinkling of sunbeams from across the lagoon.


Flow (Venezia 60)

Light is often described in the same terms as water; it floods into a room, pours through cracks, travels in waves.

A city like Venice blurs the boundaries further where the undulating water directs highlights, deepens shadows, mirrors images.

At the Illusion of Light exhibition one of the works that appealed to me combined both elements in a way that appeared simple but was doubtless complex to achieve.

It began when a  noticed a raised section of ceramic tiling; fairly normal square tiles such as you might see on a bathroom floor, laid out in a square about a metre in size.  They seemed to have been laid unevenly; each sloping slightly towards one of its neighbours.  Then I noticed that they were wet and shining.  Ok, I thought, there is some light in this piece, hardly significant, but it’s there.  Then I looked up from the tiles and saw the light source; a single bare light bulb hanging slightly off centre above the tiles.

It was wet.

More than that a stream of water was pouring down the power cable, gathering at the base of the bulb, and then dripping down onto the tiles.   Flow and current.


Buona Notte (Venezia 34)

I’m told that you have to see Venice at night.  The architectural splendour takes on a new character when illuminated against inky indigo skies, the streetlights twinkle from canal reflections, the darkened alleys take on a new air of mystery.

I’m told you have to see it, but being resident on the Lido I never did.  Unless you count this shot from the ferry as I returned one evening.



As we adjust to the darker evenings it’s time once again for the Durham Lumiere Festival.  Last here two years ago, it caused a lot of controversy last time because of the sheer numbers of people cramming themselves sardine-like onto the tiny peninsula that forms the heart of the city.  The time it took to fight through the crowds was frustrating, but the rewards in my view more than outweighed the distress.

Greenhouse Effect
Greenhouse Effect

The festival is biennial, and so this weekend the darkness was pushed away once more.  New rules required tickets to manage the throng, and some frustrating one way traffic controls meant that the walks from one installation to another weren’t always convenient.  Nevertheless with a little local knowledge I was able to see a good proportion of the pieces.  Sadly I was disappointed.  Yes there was beauty and creativity on display, but for me it was a pale imitation of what had gone before; unable to match the impact of the original.  There were some highlights of course, quite literally.

Platonic Spin
Platonic Spin

St Oswald‘s graveyard populated with neon bird boxes hit you not so much with the visuals, but the accompanying birdsong that filled the night.  For me there was a sense of peace generated by that.

A promising start that was developed as I reached the University Science Site.  Volunteers were having their irises scanned to be incorporated into a projected work on the side of the Bill Bryson Library as part of a punningly titled work “I”.


The orbs of the visual organs were echoed through one of my favourite works of he evening.  Solar Equation featured the world’s largest helium sphere, but with the pulsating and flaring surface of the sun projected onto it.  Constantly changing, this representation of the most important celestial body in our lives held the fascination.

Sadly it was downhill from here.  A market square devoid of anything to match the vast snow globe of the last festival, the beautiful projection onto the cathedral still impresses, but when you’ve seen it once…  Within the cathedral itself the work (M)ondes was beautiful and atmospheric, but the tiny fireflies created by projecting lines across a network of wires was too ethereal to capture photographically.  The cloisters featured shimmering fibre optic dresses, but compared to the flaming globe that preceded them there was no drama, and this continued beyond into the college buildings behind the city’s great edifice.

So did the public get a bum deal?

That’s an individual choice but for me when you have been touched by great beauty its difficult to replicate and perhaps you shouldn’t try.  Here are some of the images I shot the first time – you can form your own opinion.

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Still when you find your moon and star…


Torch Song

For those expecting a piece about the unbearable pain of unrequited love, or the emotionally charged album recorded by Carly Simon as the end of her marriage to James Taylor loomed into view, I’m sorry.  I could easily turn my hand to either task but this is a tale of lost light not lost love.

I have for some time been thinking about painting with light, a technique for taking photographs in darkness, where the illumination is provided not by fixed lights, or strobe flashes, but instead by nothing more than a simple torch, or flashlight. Truly skilled exponents of the art create images where the light they provide becomes the subject of the image; whirling coloured LEDs, balls of burning steel wool that send showers of sparks along their flight path, or rope lights creating discs of brightness and colour. For me this was experimentation at the novice level; the simple torch.

Even this method can be used to create interesting shots for the play of light during a long exposure may be used directionally to emphasise contours, or selectively highlight points of interest whether on architecture, still life, or even portrait.

Artists impression of what I might have done!!!
Artists impression of what I might have done!!!

I had it in mind to shoot a piece of sculpture on the banks of the Wear just after the sun had set, exposing for deep indigo skies and picking out the head of the bronze bull with its great sweeping horns,  perhaps leaving the rest as dark silhouette against the violet heavens. Those heavens had other ideas.

As they began to darken I set off towards my bovine objective, curious as to what I might achieve and expectant of some interesting imagery. My hopes were to have cold water poured over them however. Quite literally for the gathering darkness was not a product of the setting sun, but of dense grey rainclouds. I was some 30 or 40 minutes too early for sunset and there was no chance of cobalt backdrop.

I might have waited, but a rain was falling that matched the density of its progenitors.  I might have taken some detail shots of the rivulets upon the beast’s head, but this was no time to be changing lenses, so tried to salvage the shoot by using a narrow aperture to produce the darkness I craved, before realising the further difficulty that the torch I had was woefully inadequate in both power and focus. I wasn’t equipped for the challenge.  The torch was too simple.APW_8674

I wasn’t giving up without a fight though.  Returning home I found darkness and a willing accomplice in Lord Shiva, who was willing to relinquish his usual vantage point above my  iMac to model for me.  The torch was still too diffuse in its beam, but nevertheless I was able to create some side lighting quite easily that demonstrated how the technique might work.  APW_8678-EditNothing more to be done now but to bang on some Carly Simon and reflect on missed opportunity!

Carly Simon – I Get Along Without You Very Well 

“and all the pieces matter”*

I’ve written recently about trying to get a greater level of luminosity into some of my pictures, to create images that are soft and beautiful, and finally I’ve cracked it.

Not without help I must add, but nevertheless I shot some pictures yesterday that I’m really happy with.

I’ve had a friend called Zara on Facebook for quite some time now, and I have no idea how, as we’d never met each other before yesterday.  She’s a model, so I guess one us befriended the other as a result of a shoot involving a mutual acquaintance.  She’s a regular poster, both of her pictures and, at times, her frustrations but in amongst the chatter, she posted details of a workshop that she was running at her home.

This appealed for a number of reasons; I’d finally get to meet and work with Zara and find out if she was just as vivacious in reality as she is online (yes she was), her home is a converted Wesleyan Chapel so had the potential to provide something a little different as a location, and finally the workshop was being run by Andrew Appleton.  I’d not met Andrew previously but had seen a few of his beautiful shots in the portfolios of other models, so I was well aware of him.  Most notably my favourite images in Cassie Jade’s portfolio that I referred to recently were shot by Andrew.

Interestingly for the first couple of hours we didn’t even pick up our cameras.  Zara and Andrew, plus me and two other attendees, Ian and Peter, chatted, enjoyed the coffee and cookies that Zara’s boyfriend David provided regularly, and discussed some images and ideas to define what we expected from boudoir photography.

Another challenge for me was I shot the entire workshop using a single 85mm prime lens, which for non-photographers means no zoom facility, but in this case a greater ability to deal with the lighting conditions.  Beginning in Zara’s main bedroom, a huge space which encompasses the whole footprint of the building we shot her against a window, deliberately blowing out the backlight to pure white, and creating a wrap around glow which would slim down most subjects.  (Unnecessary in Zara’s case as you can see)

Then, same location, but with a faster shutter speed and the addition of a single light diffused in a large soft box, you get a different result.  The blown out background becomes visible too, whilst Zara is more defined.  APW_6746-EditEven when the flash didn’t fire, the change of shutter speed produced a useful outcome.APW_6735

The a change of lighting once more.  The strobe was replaced with a continuous, focusable light.  A change of ISO and now the background, despite the ambient light from that huge window fades to black.

APW_6863-EditIncredibly we still haven’t exhausted the possibilities of the room.  This time we photographers squeeze into the window space and shoot Zara illuminated purely by natural light once more. APW_6803-EditAPW_6824-Edit This had the advantage of really lighting up Zara’s eyes, and though I chose not to show that in these two images, you’ll see what I mean soon enough.

Time for a different look now, so we descended a floor to the guest room.  No light pouring in from the skylights above, just a single window, a change of lingerie, the addition of a book as a prop, and most of all the benefits of Zara’s choice of decor.  The colours in the room worked brilliantly with the daylight colour and now was the moment to unleash Zara’s eyes at their most brilliant.

I love the tones and the soft light in these pictures.  They are closer to the Sue Bryce look than I’ve ever managed to achieve before and are shot almost entirely in natural light.  I say almost because Andrew produced a fantastic piece of kit at his point.  The Ice Light is a bit like a sawn-off light sabre, yet it was enough to provide some subtle hair lighting.

We were not done yet though still time to see what we could come up with in the bathroom without Andrew’s guidance.  A change of clothes, a mirror, bags of natural light, (and a little jedi magic) and we were done.

One model, one house, a couple of lights, but for the most part good old daylight.  And the guidance of Andrew Appleton of course.

A great day and I saved my favourite ’til last; I think it has a bit of a Gillian Anderson look to it!  Thanks Zara – I’m glad we made friends!

Zara Jo
Zara Jo


* Detective Lester Freamon – The Wire, Series 1, episode 6