REFLECTIVE JOURNAL TASK- Artist research- PETER MARLOW ‘the english cathedral’


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Peter Marlow embarked on his professional photojournalistic career in 1975. He joined Magnum photos in 1980, his major project have been concerned with aspects of contemporary British life. The series that interested me was ‘the English cathedral’ here he shot 42 Church of England cathedrals over 4 years. Marlow found the history and atmosphere in churches important, he choose to photograph cathedrals as you can get the volume and grandeur. A lot of people visit cathedrals for moments of inner peace and admiration as to what people can build with their hands.

Marlow was commissioned by the royal mail in 2008 to shoot cathedrals, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the completion of St Paul’s cathedrals. Marlow continued the project on his own account once the stamp project had been completed. The images of Litchfield, Belfast, Gloucester, St David’s, Westminster and St Magnus Orkney were issued as a set of 6 commemorative stamps and a miniature sheet.

Each cathedral was shoot from the same position, looking east towards the alter and with the sun setting. As I researched previously on the symbolism and layout of churches they were originally built with the light coming in on the east so it allowed natural light to enter without artificial lighting. This was something I was going to take forward in my own work as I only wanted to use natural lighting if possible, keeping the serenity of the church. By using this viewpoint and lighting Marlow adds depth to the visual experience of the building. Marlow took artificial lighting out of his shoots creating a representation of each cathedral removed from the modern age.

When choosing five of his favourite cathedrals, one of them included Rochester Cathedral. I found this interesting as I wanted to photograph Rochester myself (as seen in my test shoot) Rochester as well as Canterbury is one of the two medieval cathedrals in Kent. It shows overlaying history and architectural styles in the gothic elements.

Another one of his favourites as stated in ‘port’ is St Paul’s cathedral – he liked the vast space with massive volume underneath the unique central dome.

Marlow uses a large format film camera to capture the vast sizing and bringing sharpness to the architecture. When taking the images he turned the lights off and took the images just as it became light at 5.30am with an exposure of just over five minutes.

Marlow takes all his church images early in the morning between 4.30 – 6 am as the sun rises, using a tripod, ladder and long shutter speed, these are elements I want to take forward in my own work and test seeing how they come out and effect the overall atmosphere of the image. Another element of Marlow’s work I want to take forward in my own work is the typology theme. I like that even though all the churches are different in their architectural beauty, With the layouts being similar it bring them tighter as a series and could also make the viewer pay more attention to notice the details grabbing their attention.

Marlow said in his article ‘Morning Glory’ on FT ‘he began by photographing the aesthetic highlights of each building, but the images seemed to merge with each other’ he needed to find a more ‘rigorous and systematic approach’ so he adopted the simple strategy of photographing the naves looking along the central axis.

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