James Newton

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The Colour of Water 05.2017

“The light of Venice is as important as its space and form. The light on water casts illumination upwards and outwards…..There is a sparkling light, on winter days. But the characteristic of Venice is a pale soft light, like a drifting haze, powdered, part wave and part cloud. It is a pearly iridescent light wreathed in mist. It is drawn from the horizon as much as from the sun. It lends everything unity.”  Peter Ackroyd, Venice

The light on the venetian lagoon is hard to describe, it has to be experienced.  During a recent visit to Venice I made regular trips on the vaporetto out to the islands of Mazzorbo, Torcello and Sant Erasmo. These islands are all a little further out in the lagoon, all places near to Venice yet far removed. Over time the lagoon became a destination in itself.

Something about the stillness of the water and the way it reflects light from its glassy surface. Something about the hazy wintery conditions that hide the horizon from view, sky and water blending together, indistinct. Something about the softness of the colours, subtle yet vividly there.

This is light as physical substance, you don’t just see it, you feel it.  You are ‘in’ it. Endlessly changing, endlessly watchable.  The effect of the movement of the water combined with the movement of the boat has a mesmerising effect, it becomes soporific, hypnotic almost. Time moves at its own speed here, like another substance, indistinct and unimportant it passes as we move through it.  I have noticed that when out on deck looking into the lagoon people often end up with their eyes closed, maybe the effect can be better felt this way as though what the eyes transmit is too literal.

“What in any case is the colour of water?” (Peter Ackroyd, Venice). “The colours of the sea approaching Venice have variously been described a jade green, lilac, pale blue, brown, smoky pink, lavender, violet, heliotrope, dove grey. After a storm the colour changes as the water becomes aerated. On a hot afternoon the waters may seem orange. The colours of the sky, the colours of the city, are refracted in little ovals of ochre and blue. It is all colours and no colour. It reflects, and does not own, colour. It becomes what it beholds.”

Made of Light Too website launched 01.2017

November 2015 was the tenth anniversary of the publication of ‘Made of Light’. To celebrate this, Mark Major and Keith Bradshaw of Speirs + Major have collaborated with renowned architectural lighting photographer and filmmaker James Newton to create twelve short, abstract videos that echo the original themes of the project: Source, Contrast, Surface, Colour, Movement, Function, Form, Space, Boundary, Scale, Image and Magic. Made of Light Too – A Closer Look at Light employs digital media through an online presence to help reach a wider audience than the original project. In this way it becomes an extension of the original ideal to inspire, delight and communicate the wonder of light.

http://www.madeoflighttoo.com

Appropriate Light, Serpentine Pavilion 10.2016

Sometimes it is good to try something different.  This post focuses on the Serpentine Pavilion from 2015 by Selgascano where I got to try out some ideas and approaches to architectural photography that I hoped would show the key aspects of the project from a different perspective.

I liked this Serpentine Pavilion, I thought it was in the spirit of the project (it is after all a temporary structure). It was playful, experimental, immersive & joyful; it was also full of colour.  It is so nice to see some colour in architecture (all too rare in London) and some materials that reacted to the sun and brought the sunlight inside – making it a part of the building. The heat came in too, wow it was hot in there, but from what I saw people really interacted with and enjoyed the building.  Kids absolutely loved it, literally jumping for joy when they went in and it is rare for architecture to cause this reaction. It was a reaction caused largely by the use of colour and light.

The architect described the pavilion as follows – “We sought a way to allow the public to experience architecture through simple elements: structure, light, transparency, shadows, lightness, form, sensitivity, change, surprise, colour and materials. We have therefore designed a Pavilion which incorporates all of these elements.”

Sunlight passing through coloured dichroic film is projected onto the white floor – the movements of the sun are tracked across the pavilion floor during day creating layers of shadows, colour, material and light – an immersive experience.

Large areas of the pavilion’s skin were made out of coloured dichroic film. As well as allowing coloured light to come in this material could be looked through, creating coloured views of the interior space.

Selgascano work using simple everyday materials (as found) often in an experimental fashion, here a combination of dichroic film, coloured ribbons and ETFE are stretched across a steel structure to create a series of interconnected organic ‘pods’.

In experiential terms the architects explain“The spatial qualities of the Pavilion only unfold when accessing the structure and being immersed within it.”  So the next step was to take a similar approach to the photographs as well. By trying to be playful, experimental, immersive and joyful, I have also tried to create the feeling of “being immersed within” the pavilion.

As well as using views directly through the pavilion’s various skins I also made a series of views through filters that I constructed out of the same dichroic film that was used to cover the structure. By using a combination of filtration and reflection in front of the camera I was able to play with the ideas of layering and immersion within the photographic process.

As the Serpentine says: The architects’ inspiration not only came from the site itself, but from the ways in which people move through London, notably the Underground with its many-layered, chaotic yet structured flow. By using reflections and views through materials I played with these ideas of layering and flow. There is also a short video that plays with this idea further.

I wanted to respond directly to the project in a way that I felt was in keeping with its spirit.  The images may or may not be judged ‘successful’ in terms of illustrating the concept, but the point was to be experimental and not be so concerned with the outcome. Afterall, what other project is going to allow me to do this?

Every Day is a Good Day 09.2016

When is the best time to take a photograph? In what light should the building be seen? Should it be seen in its ‘best light’? If so, what is this light and more pertinently, what is it best for? Best for showing off the building, or for showing off the photograph, or for showing something else?

The first image in the set below shows The Turner Contemporary Margate on a sunny day, blue sky sunlight coming from the ‘right’ direction would be a typical approach to photographing a building. But what if the weather is not like that in Margate, should the building still be photographed? Sunlight and blue sky show us one thing, one condition, other conditions will reveal other things.

What should a photograph show? What aspect of the building will it explain and how will the light help to explain it? In the below photograph we can see how the sunlight is ‘bringing out’ the colour of the cast concrete facade. But then overcast conditions will ‘bring out’ another shade, rain will soak the concrete and the appearance of the building will shift again.

Grey concrete can appear blue, golden, pink or aubergine in endless variation. This can happen minute by minute changes as the below image sequence shows. So which one do we show? Which is best? Or do we need all of them to make the point that far from being harsh, dull, grey or blank a concrete building can actually respond with subtlety and a whole range of colours and effects to the ambient light conditions. What colour is this building actually?

Taking this further means looking for longer; hours not minutes. How will a building’s appearance change over the course of a day? What is the day to night transition and what can this tell us about the materials, the location, the building’s function?

Of course some things only become visible at night.

Assuming that the project is there all year round would it be of interest to  photograph it all year round as well? Even the simple act of uplighting a tree will illustrate seasonal variation. Expand this across a whole area of landscaping and the effect will be fundamental to the feel of the space. Added to this is how the use of the space will change across the seasons, how many people will be using the space, how long will they stay there. The very function of a space may change depending upon the time of year.

As they will tell you in the Lake District, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So similarly when it comes to photography, there is no such thing as bad light, just inappropriate looking. Nichi nichi kore konichi (Every day is a good day) or, all days are equal. All light conditions are equal, equal in that they are there to be seen, equal in that they can show us something, so it is not a question of how something should be seen, but of how we are looking.

Sunset + 20 minutes 09.2016

There is a point on a clear evening with a crisp blue sky when everything seems to be in harmony. Calm and serene yet vibrant at the same time, an electric atmosphere hangs in the air for a short period, a merging of darkness and light. The lighting on the buildings is seen in balance against the remaining blue light of the sky and the city seems especially alive. This is why I enjoy dusk; photographing lighting projects is why I spend a lot of time waiting for it!

If I google ‘dusk’ it says 6:57 PM Friday, October 7, 2016 (BST), Dusk in London, UK.  All very precise, according to this dusk will be happening 33 minutes after sunset.  Wikipedia then tells me that Dusk is actually short for ‘Astronomical Dusk’, or the darkest part of twilight before night begins. This is part of a whole sequence of events that lead from day into night – sunset, civil twilight, civil dusk, nautical twilight, nautical dusk, astronomical twilight and then astronomical dusk all occur before ‘nightfall’.  Time measured against the course of the sun.

Minute changes in light level, angle of sun and colour of  sky are what we will see as this process unfolds, this is one of the times where we can most vividly experience the minute by minute changes occurring around us. Flux in action – visible.

The following images (Lower Regent Street, lighting by Studio-29) illustrate an exercise in recording and viewing these changes, the first image at sunset followed by an image every 5 minutes. When seen together they allow us to observe the balance shifting within the scene; the sky darkens and the emphasis drops onto illuminated windows, traffic on the street and building facade lighting. As one aspect of the city dissolves another appears.

My rule of thumb for project photography is sunset +20 minutes, this is usually the time I can start taking the photographs.  Pre-planning will allow me to have mentally ‘set up’ a number of images and then it is a race against time to try to get them all done during dusk.

All of this will depend upon the project, the local environment, the level of artificial light, the amount of sky that is visible in the image, the weather, cloud cover and what is happening at the location.  So there are many factors that will help me to decide when I am going to take the photographs but ultimately it just feels right at the time.

Appropriate Light, Turner Contemporary Margate 08.2016

JMW Turner – “…the skies over Thanet are the loveliest in all Europe”

I have always loved looking at Turner’s paintings, especially the later or ‘unfinished’ ones. For my taste, the more abstract the better, less distinct or descriptive means more atmospheric and ephemeral. But I did always take them to include a large dose of artistic licence. A ‘nice interpretation’ I would think, but of course in reality it was not like this, not as intense as this…….

The first time I visited the Turner Contemporary Margate to photograph it I waited for a sunny day. Beach/seaside/sunshine. Strong light and shadow for strong building form. Simple yes, but effective? On a second visit at a later date, this time not to photograph, I experienced sunset at the end of a long clear evening. Watching the sun setting across an expanse of sea I became aware that this was ‘one of those places’ where there is something special about the quality of light. Cleaner somehow, colours more vibrant, effects more intense. Porthmoor Beach at St Ives is another such place and whilst it is a cliche it is true. The sunset looked like a Turner (cliche time again), it did not just remind me of his paintings, but it actually resembled one.

The next time I visited it was because the weather forecast was for fog. Fog in combination with that light could be interesting! When I arrived what I saw was, well fog. Thick thick fog which meant that I could not actually see the building that I had come to photograph until I was almost at the entrance steps.

Spending time out on the beach it was possible to lose orientation and forget which direction was the town and which was the sea. Sounds were muffled and yet amplified at the same time and the effect was, in its own way, wonderful. But I could not see the building to photograph it. I must have arrived mid morning and it was not until 4pm that the fog started to clear. Gradually views of the gallery emerged, glinting in the sun through the fog.

The sun was low by this point, being winter sunset was not far off, so colours were beginning to appear. The fog took the colours and the light as it shifted and dissolved slowly, new glimpses of views would emerge and disappear, strong moments of sunlight on buildings and then glimpses of blue sky. The effect was not just wonderful but extraordinary as I found myself standing in a Turner painting. Abstract and indistinct with no sense of perspective or direction, just an emersion in colour and light. So I realised that it was not artist licence after all, this is it!

Once the sun appeared the fog melted away quickly, lifting and rolling out to sea like the tide going out. We were all left with a clear and crisp evening sunset and a sense of astonishment. It was one of the most spectacular light effects I have experienced. This winter when the weather is getting cold and foggy, cast your eye to the forecast for Margate.

Of course I took some pictures, but I’m afraid I am no Turner.

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.

Waiting for a Solar Eclipse 03.2015

Following a recent chance encounter I was invited to ‘The View from the Shard’ on Friday morning where they would be ‘opening the 72nd floor to a few photographers to take pictures of the solar eclipse.’
I joined a gathering of press photographers.  We came from far and wide to be able to capture the event, our images from this exclusive vantage point would then be distributed electronically, immediately and worldwide.

The sky was thick with cloud cover, the views were obscured and we realised we were not going to be able to see the sun; but still we waited.  Waited just in case?  Waited to see what would happen? Or waited because we had been sent there to cover the event…………..the event became the waiting, the waiting became the event, so I photographed this.

These are my solar eclipse pictures.

In Praise of Darkness 10.2014

Recently I spent a few days exploring Naples.  Sometimes this meant getting up before dawn so that I could be out on the streets before sunrise, those were the hours, or rather minutes, during which these photographs were taken.  The street lighting starts going off ‘at dawn’ like it would in any city as it is starting to get light then, but in the old town where the streets are tall and narrow this is not the case as what little daylight there is does not penetrate.  This meant that for a short while the streets were dark, really dark.  The only illumination came indirectly from doorways and windows, long stretches were pitch black.

Technically ‘unsafe’ but actually not a problem to walk along the streets were very beautiful, what is lost in light level and uniformity is gained in atmosphere.  Living in London where it is not possible to find conditions like this it was a rare treat to experience darkness in a city, it was only a few brief moments but it is one of many things I love about being in Naples.

Is it possible to photograph Martin Creed’s work No. 227: The lights going on and off? 05.2014

Martin Creed Work No. 227: The lights going on and off

Nocturnal Change 06.2013

We talk about diurnal change as a key factor of light impacting on people, but does this need to stop after nightfall?

Take a look out of the window, any window with a view to the outside world; give it a minute and take another look, it’s changed, not much but is has.  Look again in 10 minutes and then again in an hour and as for later on this evening…….well you don’t need me to tell you.

My job as a photographer is to show what it is that you do.  One of the roles of a lighting designer is to build flexibility into the lighting of a space, because the space will change over time too.  Not just through the influence of daylight, but also through the influence of people – what are they doing, how are they using the space, how many there are – so one of my roles as photographer is to build flexibility into the photographs.

The lighting level will change over time to suit the needs of the people who are there, less people means less light is needed – simple.  (although judging by the way most cities look at night not so simple to implement, but that is for another blog post altogether.)

Colour temperature is another big influence on the way a space is perceived and experienced.  A gradual warming over time can help the space ‘feel’ right at all times of day and night.

Or, in the case of this gallery space below, it is something that can be altered to provide the right ambience for the artwork on the walls.  You wouldn’t want to wash the Caravaggio’s with cool white light any more than you would want to spotlight the details in a Bridget Riley (headache).

That is why it is important that the photographs accurately portray the quality of light at all times.  1000 degrees kelvin either way may be a minor adjustment in camera, a shift one way might make the photograph look a whole lot ‘better’ or appealing, but is it not better if it is not accurate.

Sometimes one photograph just won’t do.  If so long has been spent consulting, designing, programming and focusing a whole variety of lighting scenes within a project then why would you show it with one image?  Which one do you use?

That is why you need a sequence.  Something to show how the space changes so completely and dramatically (or subtly) through the lighting over the course of time.  Something to show that you appreciate the importance of creating a mood through quality of light and something to show how your skills as a designer were used to achieve it. Simple.

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