Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Cryptic Lighting

Even when not shooting for editorial, I regard myself as a photojournalist, reporting the world as I find it and, unless it's unavoidable, I prefer not to use artificial lighting. But there are times when the available light just isn't of the right quality, quantity or direction to make a picture that will tell the story.

The crypt of St.Mary Magdalene Church in North Paddington, which I was asked to photograph recently, is a dank, dark place with a trickle of daylight filtering through narrow windows high up one of its dripping walls – and a surprising secret. To one side of the roughly rendered brick arches that support the nave and aisles above is an extraordinarily ornate chapel. Its crumbling plasterwork is painted sky blue; the intricate altarpiece is covered in gold (paint, not the real thing, I assume). It has been disused for years, but the contrast with the gloom that surrounds it is still startling. All this can only be seen with the help of three plug-in builders' lamps, the crypt's only regular light source.

The photos above and below were taken using two off-camera flashguns and one of the builders' lamps. The lighting has undoubtedly changed the look and feel of the crypt and its decaying chapel, but it has brought out striking architectural features that would otherwise have been lost in the murk. Did I go too far in letting my lights colour the arches blue (above)? I don't think so. In my book, it's an acceptable manipulation of reality, given the purpose at hand - the pictures will accompany an application by the Paddington Development Trust to the Heritage Lottery Fund, for money to renovate the building and create a community arts centre.

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