Calke Abbey in Derbyshire has the sense of a place that was once a hive of activity, but that has since diminished almost to the point of being on the verge of collapse in places. What’s more it’s kept that way deliberately by the National Trust, repaired but not restored. As such, it has the feel of a place that has been little touched in over a century and it is a veritable photographic gold mine as you walk from the ground floor to the upper floor moving progressively from dishevelment to decay.
It’s certainly not without a photographic challenge or two, mainly light levels! Even with the high ISO abilities of modern digital cameras finding enough light can be extremely difficult, particularly in some of the long dark corridors in its East wing. Tripods are not an option so fast lenses and image stabilisation are your best friend.
However, find a window in one of the many small rooms and almost inevitably there will be something worth photographing. This really is a place to photograph details, the dilapidated state of the upstairs rooms being particularly photogenic, some piled with items, though the huge collection of taxidermy is probably not to everyone’s taste, but it is a reflection of 19th century values.
The quirkiness of the place is a constant source of inspiration, and occasional humour – I recall the look of disappointment on a fellow visitor’s face who had rather impolitely forced his way past me, presumably thinking I was photographing a particularly interesting object, only to discover all there was to see was a broken glass bottle and rusting lantern. Still, I liked it!
Light, while hard to find at times, does seep through the shuttered windows and every now and then falls on an exquisite piece of furniture or one of the many hundreds of objects that litter the house or something left abandoned many, many years ago.
The engine room at Papplewick Pumping Station near Nottingham. Spent a wonderful couple of hours there photographing the magnificent beam engines and boiler house at this preserved piece of industrial heritage. These buildings were not built as public buildings and for decades few saw the design and detail that went into their construction. Papplewick, in particular, has a wonderful symmetry to its design, a symmetry that repeats over the three levels of the engine house and even into the more utilitarian boiler house with its six symmetrically arranged coal boilers.
When the well is dry, we know the worth of water – Benjamin Franklin
As I child one of my early memories was of our dad taking photographs on what I later learned was a 1940s vintage Zeiss Ikon folding camera – I have it to this day. He’d been in the airforce and I recall there were a few board-mounted black and white prints of places as diverse as Paris and the Shetland Islands that he’d made himself in his own darkroom. Years later, as a graduate student, I’d set up my own darkroom in a cupboard of a flat I rented using his enlarger.
It clearly sparked an interest and as a teenager I was given a Russian Zenit-EM 35mm with it’s 58mm f/2 Helios lens. I probably had that camera for longer than just about any other since and it served me well as a student geologist. Later, I splurged on a second camera a Soviet Lubitel 2 120 roll film twin lens reflex. While there were undoubtedly better cameras around in the 1980s, they were well beyond my budget and I can’t help but feel that the shear fun I had using these manual cameras instilled my long term interest in photography.
So, no surprise that I recently spent a thoroughly enjoyable few hours wandering around the iconic location of Bodiam Castle in Sussex on the south coast of England. Wind direction and light conspired to make this view the one that worked best rather than the more usual image that shows the castle completely isolated by it’s moat but it was the pure fun of making it that will be my lasting memory of the day.
Click here to see more of my landscape photography.
Much Meddling in the Marsh may be a rather corny pun on the Kenneth Horne radio comedy show Much-Binding-in-the-Marsh broadcast over half a century ago on the BBC. However, it rather aptly describes the various attempts I’ve made over the years to capture an image of St. Thomas à Becket church on Romney Marsh. Seems a wet and rainy October Monday finally gave me a chance to photograph this iconic location and capture some of its characteristic isolation, minus the usual summer weekend tourists.