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Exeter, past and present: photographing Architecture and the Built Environment

I am always keen to challenge myself as a photographer and to try out new appraoches. As a member of the RPS (Royal Society of Photographers) I signed up for a 'Talk-Walk-Talk' on 'Architecture and the Built Environment' (ABE).

The talk was led by Mark Reeves, a keen photographer of architecture, who creates amazing high contrast/low key images of buildings. He defined ABE as 'all kinds of constructions by people', which could include cityscapes, towns, villages, ancient to modern, whole buildings or part of a building, inside or out, or abstract, in colour or in monochrome, with people in or not........... Endless possibilities!

I volunteered to host a meet-up in Exeter for the walk part of the workshop. I chose Exeter because of its variety of buildings, which range from its 2000 year-old Roman city wall, 900 year-old Gothic cathedral, an historic quayside to ultra-modern glass-fronted shopping malls, and grungy back-street graffiti! Lots of options.

I was nervous as I made the journey on the train to Exeter, not having led a group before, and unsure of what to expect. And on the morning we met, like most this year so far, it was raining!! The usual delightful view from the train window as we travel along the river Teign, then the coast, before skirting the River Exe into Exeter, looked like this:

There was also an event being set up in the Cathedral which made it tricky to photograph there! Not a promising start! But I was heartened by the enthusiasm of the group, who had mostly watched Mark's talk, had done some research on Exeter's architecture and were keen to go and explore on their own.

So I left them to it and wandered into the High Street. I realised that my anxiety had got in the way of my own ideas for the photoshoot, and I was at a loss as to what to focus on. The range of buildings was just too confusing. I started with putting myself in the place:

before seeking out different perspectives of the cathedral. Here I wanted to show the contrasts between old and modern; the variety of the built environment to be found in Exeter:

I thought about Mark's talk and his advice about looking for details that tell the story of the place. Not many of them worked, as I struggled to isolate what I wanted and often cropped in too close and cut off important bits:

There were lots of fascinating reflections along the High Street, including new views of the cathedral, leading to another way of representing the contrast of the past and present. Reflecting on social change over the past 900 years since it was built, the growth of the city based on trade and travel connections. And the impact of the rise and fall of consumerism on the high street.

I had a play with using monochrome to emphasise shapes and angles. I think that the monochrome here is more effective:

We met up again for lunch, and although rather soggy, all seemed to have found some of the elements they were hoping for. Some were even positive about the grey skies which had helped with some monochrome experimentation, others had immersed themselves in creative approaches, such as ICM and ME. Relief. As it was still raining, the group dispersed and started their homeward journeys.

I however decided to carry on and headed towards some modern buildings off the high street. One of the group had talked about having success with ICM and ME, so I had a play. I looked for lines and light. I really like the third one in this set, as it represents the chilly, wet scene I was seeing:

Playing with multiple exposures and different white balance got me very excited when I realised what was emerging. I drew on the advice I gained from Valda Bailey's workshop (see blog) in October and experimented with different blend modes. But then disappointment as nothing seemed to be working. My idea here was to capture the shapes and lines, which I anticipated would result in interesting abstracts. Bu they are too messy and confusing to the eye, even when converted to black and white::

Getting colder and damper in the rain, I tried another location. This building had clear lines and angles, with a sharp roof against the grey sky. I drew on the advice I gained from Valda Bailey's workshop (see blog) in October and experimented with different blend modes, numbers of shots and the white balance. At last came the joy when I realised what was emerging: I really like the colour, design and abstract nature of these images:

and the colours of these:

So, a good photoshoot despite all my anxieties! I have learned that I have to be present, be patient and persevere, and also keep my attention on the focus of the shoot.

In April, we will meet up again, along with other groups who have done walks in Plymouth and Truro, to share and critique the images that we have created, and hopefully enhance our understanding of ABE photography.

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