James Newton

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Take it as it comes 01.2017

As described in a previous post about people in photographs (“Where is Everybody?”) I often spend time directing people or waiting for passers by to ‘be in the right place’ for a picture. Whilst there are good reasons for doing this it does beg the question ‘what is the wrong place?’.

Users of the space enliven the photograph and sometimes assist in illustrating scale and use.  By placing them carefully within the frame they become a considered part of the overall composition.   The flip side of this is that if they are not carefully placed within the frame then they will be upsetting the composition, as though people can be in the way, or somehow spoiling the picture.

Recently I have been playing with this idea and trying to just take it as it comes.  So, rather than trying to create the perfect arrangement in order to show the activity I can just show the activity.  No-one is in the wrong place, they are just in place.

Other people want to look at and photograph the building too, are they ‘in the way?’ or do they in fact illustrate one of the building’s functions, that of ‘attraction’, or ‘destination’ for visitors to the city.  By being there myself as a photographer I have become a part of this activity, am I in the way? Am I in someone else’s photograph?

Activity as part of the scene: rather than try to capture ‘perfection’, or my idea of what the project ‘should’ look like why not capture what it happens to look like at that particular moment?   Everything can be included, everything is relevant.  Rather than wait for everything to change and fit my photograph I should ask myself ‘am I in the right place to show everything?’ Activity as part of the seen.

Taking it as it comes may end up revealing more about the place than a carefully set up image would.  For example, a photograph of the exterior of the Kunstmuseum Basel with a car going past obscures the view, but then the building is located next to a busy road and there is usually a car (or a tram) going past so this is a typical view from that location, cars are a part of the view. The road needs to be crossed in order to reach the Museum.

Things that could be considered mistakes may in fact result in more interesting images, more unexpected images.  The viewer may learn more about the building through less choreographed images.  (I am also hoping that the photographer may learn more about how to photograph buildings!)

In future I will try to make more mistakes, try to take it as it comes……see what happens.

Torrential Sunshine 11.2016

I enjoyed a recent visit to the Portland Collection in Welbeck, Nottinghamshire (Hugh Broughton Architects) to photograph on behalf of lighting designers Speirs+Major, it is a wonderful project which received a RIBA National Award earlier this year.  I arrived in torrential rain with little hope for any exterior views at all, however, the storm blew over quickly and we had a brief moment of low bright sunshine when the light flooded into the Entrance Pavilion.

The full set of images showing the lighting design will be published soon, but in the meantime, sunlight and shadow.

Where is Everybody? 11.2016

Increasingly the emphasis of project photography, be it for lighting or architecture, is on people. Documenting people in the space, their activity, the visitor experience. People are the reason architecture and lighting are designed, they are both creators and end users. This means including (where possible) people in photographs and these are some of the considerations I take into account when doing this.

(a large amount of credit at this point must go to Speirs+Major for not so much suggesting as insisting that my photographs include people.)

July 2016

Where are they?

As soon as a person enters the frame they become a, if not the strong element within the picture.  Immediately the eye is drawn to the figure – so position them carefully within the frame and make sure that the eye is drawn to something revealing.  The Serpentine Pavilion project has many good points, but one I particularly enjoy is the level of interaction it encourages between visitor and architecture, it is very direct and playful and leaves me thinking we should interact with architecture more often.

Where should they be?

If the image is of an empty space then the sole focus is on architecture – in this instance the specific focus is a lit wall at the rear of the space.

Once a person enters the frame there is immediately another focal point. In this example the figure brings a sense of movement to the scene as well as demonstrating the scale of the space. Perhaps more importantly they also provide a silhouette against the rear wall thereby enhancing the lit effect that is being illustrated.

Also drawing the eye will be the brightest elements in the frame, in this instance the red lobby in the background is very strong so perhaps the person should be dressed in red to balance that out? Where exactly within the frame should they appear in order to create that balance? Maybe they should be here, or here, or here…….

What are they doing?

As well as drawing the eye people can help to illustrate the use of space and explain what it is there for.  Whether it is an exhibition stand set up in order to demonstrate lighting equipment or a workstation in a shoe shop, by showing people carrying out specific activities it is possible to add to the amount of information provided by an image.

How many are there?

What kind of space is it? What is its function? How many people would usually be there?  Once full of people the atmosphere of the space is completely altered.  It becomes full of life and energy, movement, interaction and of course sound – a subject I will look into more in another post.

Where are they going?

In the image below the suggestion of movement up the staircase serves to enhance the flowing lines and curves of the staircase design whilst at the same time providing a nice contrast with static nature of structure.  I usually like to show people moving or blurred, – not only does it show that they are alive(!), but also it slightly reduces the focus on them, you are not wondering about who they are and whether you recognise them or not, it is more generic and keeps the focus on the architecture whilst enlivening the picture.

What are the wearing?

Is this just a coincidence? I find this happens a lot, people will be dressed to match their surroundings (no, really) especially at art exhibitions, it might be just my imagination, but I like to think it is some sort of subconscious decision, we are drawn to the things we like……..

Don’t look at the camera!

You have seen them, but have they seen you? Most people will ignore the camera, some will get out of the way and avoid being photographed, abut then there are always those that want to get involved…………….OK move along now please.

No Drama 10.2016

All too often photographs of architecture intend to make you say ‘wow! look at that’.  They grab your attention, attempting to pull you away from the flow of imagery to which we are now exposed and into a website or magazine article.  ‘Wow’, we say – then move on to the next one,  ‘wow! look at that’ – next, ‘wow! look at that’ – next, and so on. But what if there is no ‘wow’ factor? what are we left with.

Well, ‘look at that’ to be literal about it. The difference being that rather than demanding your attention a picture can simply offer itself up to be looked at, perhaps more slowly, perhaps for longer.

Sometimes a project has no drama. This doesn’t mean that the project is no good or lacking in some way, rather it is quieter, with a quality of stillness.  Perhaps it has more to do with architecture as background condition, a space to be lived in rather than shown off, to be experienced and not just seen.

I have recently been fortunate enough to photograph two projects for Robin Lee Architecture71 Queensway and the Old Paint Factory – and it struck me that this was just such work.  In each case a former industrial building has been refurbished as living space, in each case the starting point was a fairly ordinary structure and the end result is unspectacular. Again, I do not mean this in a negative way, how many of us live in a ‘spectacular’ house, or indeed want to. Spectacular view or location maybe, but house? Give me quiet simplicity any day.

Whilst some of the materials used may be luxurious, they blend in with the whole. Where original features are left exposed, even raw in places, they speak of what remains of the original rather than leaping out as a feature of urban chic.  This is simply the way it is, this is the way the place is made. Colours are muted and subtle, elements provide function rather than feature and the overall effect is one of calm which provides a welcome contrast to the city outside the doors.

As Mary Duggan writes in an article about 71 Queensway in AJ ‘This project is about creating a specific atmosphere rather than a specific appearance’.

I think I am drawn to these projects because it fits with the way in which I like to photograph architecture (and places in general). Where possible I aim to just show what is there and try not to create drama within the pictures. Quiet pictures for quiet architecture.

Many factors contribute to the experience of architecture, all senses are active. A photograph, on the other hand, will only ever be a visual representation, an appearance. But a photograph can suggest as well as show. Composition and activity within the image can provide clues as to what it might sound like within a space. Light conditions can be used to create a specific atmosphere. Focus on materials and the way that they respond to light will offer information as to the texture and feel of the surfaces, what temperature they might be if you touched them, whether they are hard of soft. This in turn will provide further information about what the space sounds like and so on.

In the end the pictures are not so different. But there can be a subtle shift in focus away from the surface of the photograph towards the quality of the space depicted. A shift away from a purely visual response toward a more imaginative one.  Wow factor can grab your attention, but can it show you what a place is like? Can you see beyond the photograph?

71 Queensway in the AJ 05.2016

In Context 04.2016

The location of a building is one of the factors that will have the greatest impact upon its design. The existing conditions, local history, culture and climate will all impact by providing cues and boundaries in the design process thereby playing a large part in decisions on orientation, scale, form and materials.  Once complete the building then has an impact of its own upon the surroundings as part of an ongoing relationship.  Is it complimentary or intrusive, sympathetic with or in contrast to its neighbours, has it improved the situation?

How photographs can show this relationship is something I have been thinking about recently and I have a dedicated section on my website to showing buildings in context. Within these images several key themes emerge which can be considered when photographing architecture.

 

1 – Activity

The Jerwood Gallery Hastings is a lovely building for many reasons, but I think a major factor is how sympathetic it is with its surroundings. Its location is an area called ‘The Stade’ which is a launch/landing area for fishing boats, simple huts and ‘Net Shops’ (tall black wooden sheds) are the local vernacular and illustrate how to make best use of limited space. In terms of ‘use’ this is a building that is out of place, an art gallery amongst fishing huts (congratulations to HAT Projects for taking this on let alone succeeding!) So the fact that the building sits quietly amongst its humble neighbours shows sensitivity to activity – fishing – an activity that has been taking place on the site for hundreds of years. The new building honours and respects this through its scale, form and materials (the black ceramic tiles are especially good) and the best ‘views’ are those looking out from the galleries towards the surroundings, not those looking back towards the building.

 

 2 – Viewpoint (taking a step back)

Swindon Triangle is described by architects Glenn Howells as ‘a contemporary and sustainable re-interpretation of Swindon’s 19th century railway town vernacular’. There is a wonderful ordinariness to it, simple well designed housing for people to live in. The site is set up to encourage a sense of community amongst the residents, but it is the views from outside that show the integration with the existing houses in terms of scale, roof form and particularly colour. Ordinary housing requires ordinary everyday viewpoints.  At first glance these might suggest that the project is not shown clearly, but actually they can clearly show a fundamental design element.

 

 3 – Proportion (less is more)

How much (or how little) of a building needs to be in the photograph? In the case of ‘Signal Box’ in Basel by Herzog & de Meuron I had a go at ‘how little’. By focusing on the surroundings as much as/more than the building itself it is possible to illustrate what the building is for (operating train signals), why the building looks like it does (functional/industrial location), form and material choices (taking cues from the railway lines) and scale (elevated viewpoint across lines).  Another signal box (no.4) is also visible in the distance showing that this is not a stand alone building, but one of two or one of many. Indeed the architect explains that ‘now completed, Signal Box 4 has been so well optimized that it has become a prototype that can be erected, like a standardized structure, in all the urban regions of Switzerland. The use of such a similar structure throughout Switzerland would dovetail with a vision of the country as one single urban landscape.’ So showing less of the building can indeed show more (about it).

 

 4 – Light

How can light show context? I often consider light, or the question ‘what is appropriate light’ for photographing a project (which is another post in itself) and the following images make this point very simply.  They include one project that compliments its surroundings and one that stands out by contrast.

Hepworth Wakefield by David Chipperfield Architects is located in an industrial waterfront area and references surrounding warehouse style concrete buildings. Flat uniform light shows subject and surroundings in the same light and helps to show both together rather than separately. I deliberately chose to visit on an overcast day both to illustrate this point and the fact that being in Wakefield in the North of England this weather would be a more typical example of place.

Central St Giles in London by Renzo Piano Building Workshop on the other hand stands out from its surroundings by using a vibrant series of colours on the facades, not very London I’m sure you will agree! Although the architect’s website states that this ‘fits well with its urban context’ by responding to its surroundings it seems to me to ‘contrast well with its urban context’, a point that was emphasised by dramatic sunlight in the above image. By waiting for just the right moment when sunlight was falling on the orange facade and not on the foreground or adjacent buildings it was possible to show how much of a shock (be it good or bad) the use of colour in central London architecture can bring.

A building does not exist without its surroundings, so can a set of project photographs be a fair representation without showing them?  My aim is to respond to the external factors that impact upon the building so rather than look outstanding they can appear in context.

Fuzzy Boundaries 03.2016

“Architecture is the separation of interior from exterior space. It is creating a kind of boundary between inside and outside. That seems simple, but is actually quite difficult. If walls are used to separate interior from exterior, as has been the case in most architecture up to now, establishing a boundary is simple.  But interior and exterior do not need to be sharply divided, like 0 and 1 in digital code, like black and white. Rather, an infinity of degrees actually exists between 0 and 1, and an infinite grading of shades exist between black and white. A boundary is not a simple line. Something we could describe as a ‘fuzzy boundary’ could also exist.”

From “Kyokai: A Japanese Technique for Articulating Space”

All images from a recent visit to Louvre-Lens by SANAA.

Personal project on Documentary Platform 01.2016

‘Cities Underneath Cities’ is a personal project I have been working on for the last couple of years whilst visiting Italian cities.  Places visited include Naples (above), Florence, Pisa, Palermo (below), Bologna, Ferrara and Venice.  The project is now featured on documentary platform a visual archive of Italian photography projects and can be seen here.

http://jamesnewtonphotographs.co.uk

Restoring the Light 04.2015

The restoration of the Herkenrode glass windows has recently been completed at Lichfield Cathedral.  This seven year project was undertaken as part of a complete restoration of the East End of the building, the Cathedral’s Lady Chapel.  Over the course of the project I have managed to make several visits in order to photograph the project in its various stages.

A significant part of this work has been the removal, conservation and re-installation of the famous Herkenrode Glass.  The glass is considered to be one of Europe’s greatest artistic treasures, and was installed in Lichfield in 1803 when it was rescued from destruction during the French revolutionary wars.  Having withstood centuries of weather and pollution, emergency action was needed to rescue it once again and the race began to save the Lady Chapel and its priceless Renaissance glass.  The glass was removed in 2010 and taken to Barley Studio where the five-year renovation project commenced.

The whole project comprised renewing and repairing stonework in the South and North Choir aisles, replacing some of  the external stonework of the Lady Chapel, removing the Herkenrode glass to safe storage, installing clear isothermal glazing, the conservation and re-installation of  the glass, the renewal of fabrics.

The glass came from the Abbey of Herkenrode (now in Belgium) in 1801 having been purchased by Brooke Boothby when that abbey was dissolved during the Napoleonic Wars.  It originally dates from the 1530s.  The conservation work was undertaken by Barley Studio in York.

With thanks to Lichfield Cathedral for the access and some of the text for this post.

Sensing Spaces 01.2014

So this was refreshing, an architecture exhibition that was fully engaging and immersive.  An exhibition you could touch, hear and smell as well as see, a series of installations that you could walk in and on and be part of.  Built to be experienced (and this is surely the only way to see architecture) ‘Sensing Spaces – Architecture Reimagined’ is on now at the Royal Academy and well worth a visit.

“How might an exhibition highlight the sensation of inhabiting built space rather than the purely functional or visual aspects of architecture?” Asks the RA, well by creating physical interventions within the gallery spaces it answers. I have enjoyed the Serpentine Gallery Pavilions for many years for exactly these reasons, they create spaces that you can visit and be within, the architect does not have to explain something, they have to do something and ‘doing’ is their job.

Seven architects have been invited to create installations and there is no need to go into details here except to say that Lu Xiaodong was a highlight.  His installation creates a new space within a space using of natural twigs to create walls, uplift through a translucent floor and winding round and round like a geometric forest path leading to various secret little spaces and cubbyholes before ending in what was described as a Zen garden but was actually more like a pebble beach that made lovely crunching sounds when walked on.

Sensing Spaces – pebble crunch

Architecture exhibitions are often rather dry affairs, either that or they are so chock full of drawings, models, sketchbooks, quotes, photographs and films that it is difficult to know where to begin and how to gain much of value from it (beyond what you can get from a good book) – I felt the recent Richard Rogers exhibition at the RA was a bit like this.  So I recommend ‘Sensing Spaces’ for the experience, for the chance to see how space can be completely transformed with (relatively) little intervention and for the chance to visit an architecture exhibition that is fun.

The Logistics of Space 05.2013

Simply put, this was a wonderful space to be in and photograph.  It provides a good example of architecture, lighting and photography working together to achieve the same goal, definition of space.  Whilst it is the surfaces that are visible, it is the atmosphere that needs to be seen and felt within the images.  From the vast to the intimate, whilst the camera never moves it seems to photograph a different space in each of the images.

The modernist church at Worth Abbey in West Sussex has a busy and varied schedule.  Recently refurbished by a design team led by Heatherwick Studio and supported by DPA Lighting, Francis Pollen’s Grade II* listed building has to cater for many uses at all times of day and night.

The improved lighting was crucial to the success of the project and the monks had requested a flexible control system that catered for their diverse needs.  ‘Invisible’ but multi layered, the lighting design allows the mood of the space to be completely and dramatically transformed according to the time of year, the time of day, the number of people present and the requirements of each individual service.

From the 900 strong congregation on Christmas morning to the lone monk at midnight, the space changes in use, mood and appearance and it is this that the photographs needed to capture.

06:20 – 06:50 Vigils

06:50 – 07:30 Personal Prayer

07:30 – 07:55 Morning Prayer

08:00 – 08:25 Mass in the Ladychapel

13:00 – 13:10 Midday Prayer

17:30 – 18:10 Community Concelebrated Mass

18:10 – 18:45 Personal Prayer

18:45 – 19:10 Evening Prayer

21:00 – 21:10 Night Prayer

21:10 – 06:00 Night Meditation