Welcome, and thank you for stopping. It is very kind of you to do so. There are so many demands on our time and attention so I appreciate you taking the effort to pause here a moment.
My name is Stephen Taylor. I work full time (as an e-learning developer and instructional designer) but in my spare time I take photographs. You can view some of my work on this website. Some of it is also for sale on Alamy and nuMonday, either as digital downloads or physical prints. More of my photographs can be found on Flickr and Instagram as well.
We are always learning (I learnt that in my early days as a trainer) and this blog is a part of my learning process (and possibly yours?). Some of the postings will be on the subject of photography itself, based upon my reading on the subject and viewing other photographers’ works. Other postings will be on my experiences as a photographer seeking to improve my art; some of these will be less about the photographic process and more about the subject itself.
I am sharing them because I hope that people will respond with their own ideas so that together we can learn. I am not an expert in the subject but I am happy to share my thoughts and to have them challenged. I hope that in some respects this blog can become a conversation on the subject of photography.
This is the latest in an occasional series of photo essays on the events that happened at places I have photographed. I am always struck by the sense of time that has passed and the momentous events that have occurred at the place I have chosen to photograph. This series explores some of those moments from some of my favourite places. This one looks at a number of different places across London that have fascinated me since I came here thirty years ago.
A bad tempered and bitterly fought general election which resulted in a trouncing for the losing party and the winning party in hoc to some of its more extreme elements.
This was actually the election of 1710 when the Tories stormed to power over the Whigs (the precursors of today’s Liberal Democrat party) with a 150 seat majority. In an age when England was largely a theocracy they won on the back of a fear that the Church of England, the established church, was losing its power. The Whigs had introduced policies which gave freedom of worship to dissenting Protestants such as Methodists and Baptists. This was seen as too much for the extreme elements of the Tory Party who rallied under a three word slogan, “Church in Danger”.
Following their success and after many years in the wilderness the Tories were quick to act. In 1711 they passed the Act of Occasional Conformity which made it harder for dissenters to qualify for public office, and in 1714 the Schism Act made Dissenting Academies illegal. But they wanted to do more to assert the authority of the state and in a theocracy what better way than building a lot of religious buildings?
The established Church of England, through its network of parishes and churches, played its part in bolstering the authority of the state and maintaining social order. Trouble was there weren’t enough churches to go around especially in London which had experienced rapid population growth over the last two hundred years. This was keenly felt to the east of the city where once rural districts were quickly turning into extraordinarily large and densely populated parishes, the most notable being Stepney.
It was in areas such as this that the priest of one overgrown parish, writing early in the reign of George I, put it:
“… the Vilest People, Highwaymen, Housebreakers, felons of all degrees. Impudent Women and Persons disaffected to His Majesty’s Government, take Harbour and fly to their haunts therein as Vermin to their Kennels, after they have taken their Prey: and this, as the Case stands at present, with too much security.”
The Fifty New Churches Act
To counter the joint threats of the non-conformists and the growing population of the East End, and to provide a fitting symbol of the power of the state, the Fifty New Churches Act was passed. Its purpose was to build
“…fifty new churches of Stone and other proper Materials with towers or Steeples to each of them … in or near the Cities of London and Westminster, or the suburbs thereof.”
Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect and one of the commissioners appointed to oversee the implementation of the Act (and, notwithstanding his fervour for this piece of legislation, a Whig) wrote:
“The fifty new Churches the Queen has gloriously promoted the building of in London and Westminster should not only serve for ye accommodation of ye inhabitants …, but at ye same time remain monuments to posterity of her piety and grandure, & by consequence become ornaments to ye Town & a credit to ye Nation.”
Vanbrugh felt that in order to assert their authority the new churches had to be of “the most Solemn and Awfull Appearance both within and without.” The sheer grandeur of the project can be seen in the cost of some of the churches, of which only one was to cost less than £10,000 (a rebuild) and at least two of which were to cost four times that amount each. St Johns, Westminster was one of the more elaborate; it and St. Pauls, Deptford, both designed by Thomas Archer, were built in a highly baroque style, a very theatrical form of architecture which had originated in Rome in the seventeenth century. It made extensive use of ornate detailing internally and externally.
The architect Nicholas Hawksmoor, and a student of Christopher Wren’s, is perhaps the most famous name associated with the Fifty Churches. He made use of baroque elements but his churches were of a more austere nature, coming closest to Vanbrugh’s “Solemn and Awfull Appearance.” He had been appointed surveyor to the Commissioners of the Act in 1711 and held the post until his death in 1736.
The most uncompromising of his churches is perhaps Christ Church, Spitalfields, an aggressive, monumental church. Its portico has massive pillars with a central arch breaking through the horizontal on its way to the steeple, serving to emphasise its stature.
Hawksmoor was also the architect of the only church to be built in the City: St Mary Wolnoth, a small yet monumental church looking like a stocky pugilist muscling its way through the buildings that surround it. Within, it belies its small exterior with a disproportionately high roof supported in each corner by three massive columns.
Baroque architecture was perfectly suited to the aspirations of the High Church Tories. It had arisen in a city where state and church were inextricably linked and presented in solid form the evidence of that connection. In England, however, it was to last only a brief time as an interlude between Inigo Jones’ cool classicism of the mid-seventeenth century and neo-Palladianism (in many ways a revival of Jones) in the later eighteenth century. It was during this interlude that the last fling of High Church Toryism occurred before its subsidence in the face of Whig ascendancy.
By 1714 the Tory dominance was over; in that year they fell from power and the following year a further Act was passed setting up a new Commission. Whereas the previous one had included such architects as Wren, Vanbrugh and Archer, the new Commission contained none. Indeed thee was a feeling of embarrassment at having to carry through the Act.
This may have been to do with the expense of the project. In 1717 the Commission protested at having to rebuild old churches, pleading that building should be done in “Rubble, Brick [and] Brick coin’d with stone,” instead of just Stone and finally decided to build no more churches “till we find ourselves in a condition to discharge the Contracts that are made or shall be made for finishing the Churches now in building.”
With the Whigs back in power and a more favourable view of dissenters, the baroque style of High Toryism fell out of favour. The Scottish architect, Colen Campbell, in his work Vitruvius Britannicus, published in 1715, was scathing of the baroque style calling it “affected and licentious” and endeavouring “to debauch Mankind”. He praised the earlier Italian architects such as Palladio alongside Inigo Jones for their cool classical style of architecture.
In 1715, following a putsch at the Royal Works, the office which undertook the building and repair of the monarch’s property, Campbell became the chief clerk. Out went Wren to be replaced by an amateur architect, William Benson (another Whig). His brother, “lately come from a merchant in Ireland” replaced Hawksmoor as the Clerk of Works.
Within a short time there had been a backlash against those who had been involved with the earlier churches and their design began to change. This can particularly be seen in the case of St Giles-in-the-Fields. Hawskmoor was amongst those who put forward a design but the tender went to Henry Flitcroft, “Burlington Harry”, a one-time joiner on the estate of Lord Burlington, a champion of the neo-Palladian movement. James Ralph commended Flitcroft’s church as being “the most simple and elegant of the modern structures: it is rais’d at very little expence, has very few ornaments, and little beside the propriety of its parts, and the harmony of the whole to excite attention, and challenge applause.” Ralph, “Mr Rafe the Critick” as Hawksmoor called him, thought much of the other churches built under the Act “mere Gothique heaps of stone, without form or order.”
Flitcroft ultimately presented a bill of £8,436 19s and 6d (£8,436/19/6d). Cost had become a very important factor and in 1719 work came to a halt in order to pay off outstanding debts. Five years later the Commission was obliged to admit:
“… that ye Expence of building with stones. Purchasing Scites for Churches, Church yards and Ministers’ Houses, is so very great and does so far exceed the Calculations formerly made, that ye Committee conceive it will be utterly impracticable to build one half of the Churches first proposed.”
As a cost-cutting exercise the Commission in 1727 asked Hawksmoor and his then colleague, John James to build two new churches and rectories on a £10,000 budget for each. The results, St John, Horsleydown and St Luke Old Street, are more straightforward (bar their idiosyncratic steeples – Hawksmoor’s influence).
So the venture petered out. Cost cutting, political changes and a change in architectural tastes brought it to an end. Of the Fifty New Churches only ten were built (and two of those rebuilds). Efforts to assert the authority of the Church and the State through the building of grandiose churches had failed. It would become the last major church building exercise until the Victorian era when a similar panic about the threat to the Church of England’s authority broke out. It was part of the long retreat of England as a theocracy.
However it has produced some of the most dramatic buildings in London. I first became aware of them when I was doing my history degree and ever since I have been drawn back to them, especially to the strangely unnerving designs of Nicholas Hawksmoor.
‘Photographic portraiture is the best feature of the fine arts for the million that the ingenuity of man has yet devised. It has in this sense swept away many of the illiberal distinctions of rank and wealth, so that the poor man who possesses but a few shillings can command as perfect a lifelike portrait of his wife and child as Sir Thomas Lawrence painted for the most distinguished sovereigns of Europe.'”
The Photographic News (London) 1861
A little while ago I posted a blog about the growth of the selfie from the first time we saw our reflections through to the present day when we take billions of photographs of ourselves every year. It has become a second nature to pose in front of a camera whether it is for a self-portrait or someone else is pressing the shutter. We have become so narcissistic it can be very hard to imagine what it must have been like to have been photographed for the first time. In this blog I want to focus on that experience.
The chances are very remote that you do. We have all grown up in an era when photographing ourselves is a common occurrence. Many of our life experiences from the significant to the mundane have been captured on camera so to try to isolate the moment when you first saw a photograph of yourself would be very difficult.
In the early days of photography seeing that photo would be a significant moment especially as it may be the only one you will ever have of yourself. It would not have been a simple “Say Cheese” as you or someone else held their phone up for a moment to capture everyone. The process would have been complicated. It would have required a trip to a photographer’s studio so it would have been something of a day out.
Initially the cost would be quite expensive, perhaps the equivalent of several months wages; another reason for it being a one-off experience. In time and with improved processes and technology this cost would come tumbling down.
Once at the studio you would have been ushered onto what looked like a theatrical stage with daylight pouring down from above to light you. The set would have included a variety of backdrops, furniture and props, possibly of a grander style than you were used to at home, adding to the sense of the occasion. Apart from the light overhead there might be some mirrors beneath you to throw some of it back into your eyes. As you settle yourself down you try not to squint.
You and your family would be posed. The photographer would disappear under the dark cloth of his camera to check the image and then come back to move you a little. You might be sat in a chair with your family around you. As you lean back you feel a metal clamp behind your head to hold it steady for the duration of the exposure. The photographer asks someone else in your group to hold their chin in their hand as if in thought. You will all need to stay still for a bit.
You would probably arrange your features into a fairly neutral expression. You won’t smile because it is hard to keep it up for the duration of the exposure and you really don’t want to ruin the picture as you will only get one chance. Also, perhaps you are slightly overawed and feel you need to put on a face appropriate to the grandeur of the circumstances. You might be thinking of some of the portraits of famous people you have seen and you would remember that in most of them did not smile. So you would compose yourself accordingly.
When everything was ready you would need to remain still whilst a photographic plate was put into the camera and then the lens cap to expose it for a little while.
If your photograph is being taken in the very early days of the invention then you may need to stay still for several minutes, maybe up to twenty minutes even in the brightest sunlight. In those cases you might close your eyes (trying not to fall asleep) knowing that the photographer would open them again by retouching them. As the photographic process became more sensitive and lenses were able to capture more light the time would come to a few seconds.
Once the ordeal was over you would be ushered out with no doubt the next subjects already queuing up to take your place for their moment in the spotlight.
A few days later you would return to pick up the photograph. Today images have become transient; we look at them for a moment and then move on. There are apps devoted to the short-term sharing of photographs, deleted after a brief moment. Back in the nineteenth century your photograph would have been more than just an image. It would be an object. For the early Daguerreotype process it would have been a one-off, a shiny artefact set in an ornate frame. Once home the photograph would take pride of place on a shelf for all to see (although because of its reflective surface it could only be viewed one at a time from directly in front).
And at the end you have an heirloom, an object held by the family, fading and scratched but still recognisably you after all these years. We look back at you and briefly experience that same sense of wonder that you must have felt on the day that you first held this photograph in hands.
Changing your viewpoint lets you see things in a different way. Here are a few photographs taken over the last few weeks on strolls around my part of London when I turned the camera skyward to take a different view.
Another from my collection of photographs taken on this day in years past and, another from my visit to the south coast of Ireland in March 2015. This is the coastal town of Cobh, just outside Cork. In the background is St Colman’s cathedral; construction began in 1869 but numerous revisions to the original designs meant that it was not consecrated until 1919.
The fishing nets in the foreground remind us that is a working maritime town. Apart from fishing it would once also have seen transatlantic liners pausing here before heading to America, the most famous (for all the wrong reasons) being the RMS Titanic.
It is fascinating if slightly grim to think that this small town and its cathedral (probably still covered in scaffolding at that time) would be the last sight of land for the passengers and crew of that ill fated vessel.
Today’s photograph was taken in 2015 on a visit to Kinsale on the south coast of Ireland. One of the things I loved about Ireland was the colourful buildings such as the blue and yellow ones up on the hillside above the harbour.
For those of you who have been following my photographic endeavours for a little while you may recognise that I tend to hunt out the more obscure parts of the places I visit. This is a view of Cork taken today in 2015. In the centre of town there are lots of marvellous buildings and, of course, a rather splendid river but I turned my camera to the edges of the city and photographed the skyline of a church spire and telephone wires.
Each year since 2016 I have produced a calendar for sale via this website. It’s a great way to exhibit my work and every year I try to think of a new theme, something a little different to a traditional calendar.
You can view examples of photographs from earlier calendar in the galleries linked at the bottom of this page.
For 2022 I am looking for some help with ideas. The subject will be the less familiar landmarks of London, a place I have lived in for the past thirty years. In keeping with my project on time and place I am looking for locations that resonate through the ages. I have come up with a few ideas myself: a two thousand year old tree, the birthplace of television, the “Hardy Tree”, and one the churches designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor.
However I am on the hunt for more. If you have a particular hidden landmark of London which you feel ought to be included please let me know in the comments below. Tell me where it is and why it should be included. I will endeavour to photograph it, subject to Covid or any other restrictions.
I am looking for the overlooked rather than the usual landmarks that make up London.
Later in the year I will show all the photographs on this website and ask for you to choose the ones you think should be in the final calendar. If your landmark is included you will be in line for a free calendar.
Calendars from previous years.
Click on the links below to view examples of some of the works that were included in my calendars from earlier years.
For my first calendar I took photographs of bike parts, primarily Campagnolo, the premier maker of high end cycle components.
In 2017 I chose a very different theme – flowers. Mainly close-ups and quite a few unusual views of sunflowers.
In 2018 there was a choice of calendars
Cycling in Islington
Street photographs of the London Borough of Islington.
Photographs taken around the English countryside.
Riding to the end of the road – the Dorset coast
The 2019 calendar was dedicated to the first part of my cycling photography project, “Riding to the end of the Road”. The pictures were all taken where tracks and roads came to an end on the Dorset coast.
Riding to the end of the road – from the city to the coast
And in 2020 I continued the “Riding to the end of the Road” this time with photographs taken on the ride from London to the Essex coast at Bradwell. These photographs were also the subject of my exhibition at the beginning of 2020.
Like most people in 2020 (when I was putting together the next year’s calendar) I was locked down so my horizons were very limited. I raided my archive of old colour slides for the 2021 calendar..
On the 26th March 2018 I visited the cathedral city of Lincoln and stared up at its tower soaring into the Spring sky. The cathedral has stood for almost a thousand years and was once the tallest building in the world.
From my archive and another trip down memory lane for me (thank you for indulging me). This photograph was taken today in 2018 in Bridlington in the the East Riding of Yorkshire. We are on the harbourside looking southwards.
My visit to Yorkshire was part of an exploration into my family history – some of my ancestors came from that part of the world (hence when we were young, Yorkshire puddings every Sunday lunchtime – or was it called dinnertime??)