Modern Christian artwork in the ancient St Hilary's Church in the Vale of Glamorgan, mainly built in the 14th and 16th centuries, though at least the Norman arch dates from the 12th century. It is the only church in the British Isles dedicated to St Hilarius of Poitiers in France. The church also has the stone tomb of one Thomas Bassett of Old Beau Pre, with a carved knight in armour lying atop, inscribed 1423.
Morocco and Tunisia are the places to go to photograph interesting doors. Many buildings go to a great deal of trouble to offer a decorative place by which to enter or leave. Often, they're past their prime but in some ways that only adds to the charm in terms of the beauty of decay. Blue doors and walls are especially common in both countries, which is strange, because neither of their flags have any blue. Knowing what I know now, if I was transported back in a time machine I would make sure I had the sole rights to sell blue paint in both these places. I'd be a billionaire now.
It's become a bit of a cliché for photographers to head down to Dungeness for a day's shooting. When my wife told a guy from the same village as us, who's also a keen photographer, that I was away in England, in Kent, he apparently rolled his eyes skyward; he knew exactly where I had gone. But this boat graveyard really is a special place, though the boats and sheds are deteriorating fast. It's not exactly "England's only desert" as described by the ever-hyperbolic 'Daily Mail' a couple of years ago, but certainly one of its most unique and atmospheric, quiet and unromantically beautiful places. It's hard to imagine from these images that just a kilometre or so to the right as you look out at sea, there's a godawful ugly concrete nuclear power station.
I'm told that a million people a year visit Dungeness. If so, they must all go together in summer. The crunch of my feet on the shingle and the squeal of seagulls was all I heard in March. I was fortunate enough to get an appropriate mackerel sky on one of the days I visited but I would have eagerly traded that for one the famous mists that drift in from the sea. That would really add to the eeriness. Maybe it'll happen next time I go all clichéd. More of my images from this location can be found here.
Although I hold no belief in a deity and find the very concept philosophically and empirically suspect, I do confess to enjoying both the historical and ambient aspects of old churches. And they don't get much older than St Tanwg's church, sinking into the sand dunes just outside the small village of Llandanwg in North Wales. The stone building has been dated to the 13th century but the church is much older than that, attested by the presence of inscribed stones from 6th century, while St Tanwg himself is said to have lived a century earlier. It's rarely used for church services nowadays, but it's nearly always open during daylight hours and, if you're lucky enough to be alone, a place of great calm and moody photography.
In addition to Veronica, patron saint of photographers (and, apparently, laundry workers), photography and Christianity share two important concepts, that of light and darkness. In Christian symbolism, darkness reliably conveys the notion of evil, death and the unknown. In contrast, light conveys only positive aspects such as life, goodness and hope. For example, Genesis tells us that God not only created light, he also saw that it was good. The New Testament describes Jesus as the light of the world and the visionary revelations of John depict Heaven in terms of light. The medieval use of coloured and stained glass within European churches is probably the best physical example of Christianity symbolising the goodness of light; as if the colourful light of the heavens floods the interior of the otherwise dark church with goodness.
Although it appears as if Christian symbolism deals with light and darkness in rigid ways this is not always so. Some sects of Christianity view evil and good, not as polar opposites, but in relative terms, evil being the relative absence of good. This is not unlike how photographers see things. A dark scene can be illuminated but an illuminated scene is not made darker by adding darkness, only by reducing the amount of light. An underexposed scene can often be post-processed to reveal physical features but a grossly overexposed, blown-out scene has lost all such features to the light. Thus to the photographer, darkness is not a thing in itself, either physically or symbolically, but a relative, and eminently measurable, degree of light. And, of course, photography cannot exist without some light, for without at least some photons hitting film or sensor, no image is captured.
Photographers are able to manipulate the light and darkness in a scene in two ways. First, symbolically, they might purposely include a large amount of darkness within the frame (labelled, fittingly, as negative space) to convey the notions of evil, trepidation, unknown, horror etc. Second, they might also include negative space or relative darkness simply as a means of diverting attention to the subject of their image.
As an atheist, I view Christian imagery and iconography wholly as depictions of mythology and consider them to convey stories and ideas and perhaps some abstract truths, but not necessary literal truths. This gives me much to play with in terms of interpreting the imagery as photography because I feel no onus to deal with the symbolism according to tradition, or to present Christian imagery in the ‘right light’. Consequently, although I freely use Christian imagery concerning itself with death, I do not naturally equate the symbolic use of darkness with evil. Rather, I sense solitude and calmness, ignorance, or the unknown, all of which are able to be dispelled by the light.