Saxon in origin, the church that currently provides a hub (cultural as well as spiritual) in Wivenhoe is a primarily Victorian construction. Many photographers love snapping churches, and I was delighted when a representative of St Mary’s asked me to document some of the restoration work currently being undertaken there.
The main part of my work will involve before-and-after shots of exterior masonry, along with some wide angle contextualising shots. Most of the exterior restoration work is on the south and west sides of the building, and access to diagrams of the areas being restored allowed me to determine some of the more visually interesting sections to photograph. On the inside, it is sometimes quite obvious where some TLC is required, such as where the plaster work has fallen away below.
The majority of shots here, however, simply show various areas of the church with the scaffolding erected. This is not a commercial commission, and there is some room for artistic licence above and beyond the documentary requirement.
One of the more obvious beauties of photographing church interiors is the light coming through the stained glass windows; I chose to rely entirely on ambient light to capture the interior scaffolding. Much of the window light was blocked out by the wooden boards that provided a platform for workinmg on the ceiling; a tripod enabled me to keep the ISO down to a relatively noise-free 400 by facilitating a slow shutter speed of around about half a second.
Had this been a strictly documentary task, I may have used a bit of flash to brighten the interior of the church without blowing out the windows. However, with licence to play, I went for a high contrast look that relied on window light alone to really make the scaffolding stand out from the surroundings.
The tripod came in handy again when getting a view along the scaffolding, level with the bottom of the window in the background. With the tripod fully extended and balancing on the pews a two second delay on the shutter release ensured there was no camera shake with the long-ish exposures still being employed.
I ended the afternoon with a bit of abstraction, contrasting the scaffolding with the stained glass. Removing the colour from a stained glass window may seem a little counter-intuitive, but it helped balance the elements in the shot.
To learn more about St Mary’s Church, including the ongoing restoration work, visit stmaryswivenhoe.org.