gathering light – stygian

stygian – dark, gloomy, infernal or hellish

venice_castello_©James Newton Photographs
©James Newton Photographs

We are probably all familiar with the term ‘stygian gloom’ to describe a certain type of darkness. Thick and all consuming, only traces and outlines are visible within. Stygian is of or relating to the river Styx (In Greek mythology, Styx is a deity and a river that forms the boundary between Earth and the Underworld or Hades).

C16: from Latin Stygius, from Greek Stugios, from Stux Styx ; related to stugein to hate.

Every Day is a Good Day

When is the best time to take a photograph? In what light should the building be seen? Should it be seen in its ‘best light’? If so, what is this light and more pertinently, what is it best for? Best for showing off the building, or for showing off the photograph, or for showing something else?

The first image in the set below shows The Turner Contemporary Margate on a sunny day, blue sky sunlight coming from the ‘right’ direction would be a typical approach to photographing a building. But what if the weather is not like that in Margate, should the building still be photographed? Sunlight and blue sky show us one thing, one condition, other conditions will reveal other things.

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Turner Contemporary Margate, David Chipperfield Architects

What should a photograph show? What aspect of the building will it explain and how will the light help to explain it? In the below photograph we can see how the sunlight is ‘bringing out’ the colour of the cast concrete facade. But then overcast conditions will ‘bring out’ another shade, rain will soak the concrete and the appearance of the building will shift again.

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Hepworth Wakefield, David Chipperfield Architects

Grey concrete can appear blue, golden, pink or aubergine in endless variation. This can happen minute by minute changes as the below image sequence shows. So which one do we show? Which is best? Or do we need all of them to make the point that far from being harsh, dull, grey or blank a concrete building can actually respond with subtlety and a whole range of colours and effects to the ambient light conditions. What colour is this building actually?

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Shifts in colour as the sunlight hits the building

Taking this further means looking for longer; hours not minutes. How will a building’s appearance change over the course of a day? What is the day to night transition and what can this tell us about the materials, the location, the building’s function?

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Serpentine Pavilion 2014, Smiljan Radic

Of course some things only become visible at night.

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Spectra as seen from Primrose Hill, Ryoji Ikeda

Assuming that the project is there all year round would it be of interest to  photograph it all year round as well? Even the simple act of uplighting a tree will illustrate seasonal variation. Expand this across a whole area of landscaping and the effect will be fundamental to the feel of the space. Added to this is how the use of the space will change across the seasons, how many people will be using the space, how long will they stay there. The very function of a space may change depending upon the time of year.

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Pancras Square, Speirs+Major

As they will tell you in the Lake District, there is no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. So similarly when it comes to photography, there is no such thing as bad light, just inappropriate looking. Nichi nichi kore konichi (Every day is a good day) or, all days are equal. All light conditions are equal, equal in that they are there to be seen, equal in that they can show us something, so it is not a question of how something should be seen, but of how we are looking.

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Thames Variations, Battersea

Dusk = 6:57 PM

There is a point on a clear evening with a crisp blue sky when everything seems to be in harmony. Calm and serene yet vibrant at the same time, an electric atmosphere hangs in the air for a short period, a merging of darkness and light. The lighting on the buildings is seen in balance against the remaining blue light of the sky and the city seems especially alive. This is why I enjoy dusk; photographing lighting projects is why I spend a lot of time waiting for it!

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Regent Street, Lighting by Studio-29

If I google ‘dusk’ it says 6:57 PM Friday, October 7, 2016 (BST), Dusk in London, UK.  All very precise, according to this dusk will be happening 33 minutes after sunset.  Wikipedia then tells me that Dusk is actually short for ‘Astronomical Dusk’, or the darkest part of twilight before night begins. This is part of a whole sequence of events that lead from day into night – sunset, civil twilight, civil dusk, nautical twilight, nautical dusk, astronomical twilight and then astronomical dusk all occur before ‘nightfall’.  Time measured against the course of the sun.

Minute changes in light level, angle of sun and colour of  sky are what we will see as this process unfolds, this is one of the times where we can most vividly experience the minute by minute changes occurring around us. Flux in action – visible.

The following images (Lower Regent Street, lighting by Studio-29) illustrate an exercise in recording and viewing these changes. When seen together they allow us to observe the balance shifting within the scene; the sky darkens and the emphasis drops onto illuminated windows, traffic on the street and building facade lighting. As one aspect of the city dissolves another appears.

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Sunset
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+5
Sunset + 5mins
Lower Regent Street_Sunset_+10
Sunset + 10 mins
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Sunset + 15 mins
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Sunset + 20 mins

My rule of thumb for project photography is sunset +20 minutes, this is usually the time I can start taking the photographs.  Pre-planning will allow me to have mentally ‘set up’ a number of images and then it is a race against time to try to get them all done during dusk.

All of this will depend upon the project, the local environment, the level of artificial light, the amount of sky that is visible in the image, the weather, cloud cover and what is happening at the location.  So there are many factors that will help me to decide when I am going to take the photographs but ultimately it just feels right at the time.

Listening to architecture

For a while I have been experimenting with sound recording as another way of documenting architecture and places.  Through a combination of starting to use video (of which sound is a key aspect) as well as listening to certain types of music/field recordings it has fast become an area of interest and one I am starting to use more and more alongside architectural photography in an attempt to convey the atmosphere of places.

Here’s what an expert has to say on the matter:

“Field recordings convey far more than basic facts.  Spectacular or not, they also transmit a powerful sense of spatiality, atmosphere and timing. These factors are key to our perception of place and movement and so add substantially to our understanding of events and issues.  They give a compelling impression of what it might actually be like to be there.  Sound is our prime sense of all-round spatiality and listening gives us a point of ear.  It enables us to judge how far we are from the events and how we might feel and react in the circumstances.”  Peter Cusak, On Listening

Images can show you what somewhere looks like, but you are removed from the action somehow, sound is more engaging so listening ‘puts you in the space’ in a way that looking does not.

I am not trying to talk myself out of a job here, after all I am a photographer, but (like video) I see this as something that can add a bit more to the way a project is presented…………anyway some sound recordings can be found here.