A real building is one on which the eye can light and stay lit. Ezra Pound
My Christmas present from my two daughters this year, was a day’s photography tuition to be taken in London’s Square Mile. They had suggested I enjoyed it whilst I still had two reasonably useful hands, before the next operation on my left hand in January. Fortunately Diane booked to go too. I was to catch the train from Audley End at 8.40 and she would join me at 9.03 from Sawbridgeworth so we would have plenty of time to walk to The Monument for 11 o’clock. We were looking forward to taking some street shots before attempting the architecture. The train was on time and we made our way slowly into London. We stopped at Tottenham Hale where we were suddenly advised to remove ourselves from the train unless we wanted to go to Stratford. The signals were down going into Liverpool Street. By the time we reached Liverpool Street, we had very little time left to do any street photography. We headed off towards The Monument following the map I had prepared earlier. By now we were hungry, thirsty and we needed the loo! We found a small cafe where we enjoyed our coffee and a bite to eat. We were dismayed to learn that the cafe had no facilities. The girl behind the counter advised us to use the public toilets that appeared to be in the middle of the road just outside. As soon as we got there we realised we needed 50 pence to enter. Diane was fuming as neither of us had the change required. It was not the first time this has happened to us both in London. I have grown accustomed to living in a civilised town where basic human needs are catered for without the need for money. I always forget how uncivilised and money grabbing our beautiful city can be. Thank you Boris! We stopped three ladies and asked if they could change a pound. They only had one fifty pence piece and understanding our plight suggested we had took the money without further ado. Whoever you are, thank you.
The last time I visited The Monument I was eleven years old. It was my birthday and we arrived in the city by car, early in the morning, looking forward to a day of surprises and celebrations. We parked up and waited for the city to ‘open’ (it was 50 years ago). It was going to be a very hot day so we opened all the windows in the car. Suddenly, without warning, there was a loud noise behind and at the side of us, as huge amounts of water suddenly squirted fiercely through the car windows. It was the road and pavement cleaning machine, driven by a young man who had no idea our windows were open. It was one surprise we could have done without.
By now, we only had seconds to spare as we reached The Monument and saw at least ten people with a variety of cameras and equipment standing around. We checked in with our tutor, Edo Zolo and he began asking how many of us were using the automatic setting on our cameras. I have to be honest and say, that at this point, I began to feel a very tiny bit smug, as at least four people put up their hands. The tutor supported them to set their cameras on manual and we were given ten minutes to take photographs of The Monument with the instructions to “Think outside the box”. I wandered around this huge iconic tower not feeling at all inspired by it photographically. I took some ‘usual’ type pictures as did Diane and then we spotted some reflections in a glass doorway. No sooner had I got my pictures, it was time to move out of the area and into the corporate zone. We could see The Shard behind us as we walked, but the light was very harsh and the street dark, so my smugness began to evaporate, as I realised how challenging architectural photography really is. There are shadows, ugly looking appendages like CCTV cameras, people in the way with and without cameras and a clutter of other less attractive buildings to work around. It was a grey day but the sky was very bright with lots of white clouds. Each time I checked to see what quality of picture I had, I was disappointed, as the sky was blown and yet the lower parts of the buildings were dark. I turned down the ISO to 100 hoping that I could reclaim some of the darkness in Lightroom later. We moved on to take pictures of the Cheese Grater, the LLoyds Building and The Gherkin (or Onion as I call it). Whilst there were wonderful reflections all around us capturing them was not so easy and camera settings remained difficult to work out. In the end I put my polarising filter on, in the vain hope that I could reduce the burned out sky effect. I think it did a pretty good job but I now realise, I should probably have used the spot metering technique that Dave showed me when we were at the Duxford Airshow.
An hour later Edo had his hands full, trying to help those less used to their cameras than Diane and me. Thinking ‘outside the box’, Diane lay on the floor to take pictures, waited for opportunities to add people into the frame as well as take them away (not literally, although she was tempted once or twice). I continued to look up, searching for patterns and shapes I liked. I was beginning to enjoy the architectural and photographic challenge we had been set. If I had not been on a course, I may have given up and returned to my comfort zone of street photography, instead, I persevered and began to realise that I was really enjoying the buildings. Having once thought, like our future monarch, that modern architecture had spoiled London, my appreciation of the uniqueness and exquisite modernness of individual buildings was growing rapidly. It is strange how capturing an object in a lens, ensures it is held tightly in the minds eye, if only sometimes for seconds. During that process, as photographers look for details, isolate features and absorb them, whilst at the same time, trying to understand and capture the essence of what they see, that object becomes more familiar and often far more inspiring. And so these modern buildings began to amaze me with their beauty, as their crisp lines provide such a wonderful contrast to the curves and rougher edges of the old. Even the entrance to Lloyd’s, with it’s chef’s kitchen appearance, has a grey and bright beauty all of its own. Tall buildings with their cloud reflections become part of the sky as they leave the drabness of the city behind them reminding us all how small and insignificant we really are in the scheme of things. To my shame, I hadn’t ever noticed this city beauty before.
At twelve thirty Edo said we were free to have lunch and we would meet back at the studios near Old Street at 3.30 where we would choose three of our pictures to be shown to everyone. Constructive criticism would also be given. At this point I had no idea where we were. We decided to retrace our steps slowly to Liverpool Street, ready to catch the train to Old Street. The group dispersed in different directions. Diane and I continued to take pictures of buildings as we looked for a place to eat lunch. We happened upon a Japanese restaurant where we enjoyed some great food and used the time to choose, what we considered to be, our best pictures.
At 3.30 we gathered in a small musty smelling studio, one of many in the old tobacco factory. The walls were lined with Mac computers and Edo explained how to use them to choose our photographs. The PDI show soon began and it was clear that even the more experienced photographers had struggled with the lighting conditions. The photographs were all very different. People had spotted different aspects of the buildings and the beginners seemed to have improved throughout the day.
I still have so much to learn about photography and yet it has the ability to make me challenge my preconceived ideas and persevere, when in the past I would have been reluctant to leave my comfort zone. Now I relish the thought of taking on, whatever challenge, photography can throw me.
Thank you Hannah and Kate for a great Christmas present.