Friday, 1 April 2016

Lincoln Cathedral: At The Heart Of It

I am officially out of excuses. Even when I have a camera full of photographs, I don't seem to be able to find time to post them. So much for my New Year's Blogging Resolutions! Oh well, at least I get there eventually.

So in my last post, I was in Lincoln for a few days to get some work done. One of those days included an in-depth tour of the Cathedral with its architect, who happens to be my boss.

Possibly my favourite thing about Gothic architecture (possibly, it changes all the time) is the light. Now I mean, of course there's all the stuff about light in religion that you would expect. I understand it as a concept, even though it doesn't influence me, & I can understand it symbolically when I see a huge space in a beautiful building wonderfully illuminated by natural light.

Then I think of the windows that made it possible. The shapes that made it possible. The buttresses that made it possible. I think of the skill, ambition and guts of those old fellas hauling chunks of stone up ladders.

Perhaps this is my lack of religion talking, it most probably is, but for me Cathedrals are all about humankind. To me, they stand as symbols of the great things we can achieve, even if they take hundreds of years & grow and change beyond recognition in that time. The sacrifices made. The lives that came and went around these walls, the people that never got to see it complete.

Then again, I suppose that none of us will ever see one of these great buildings "complete."

They're never complete. They continue to adapt, expand, fall apart & be put back together again. Duncan Grant got to paint this mural in Lincoln Cathedral in the twentieth century. I'm pretty sure that Remigius or St Hugh of Lincoln would never have anticipated it. Yet, there it is.

At times when the whole place is overwhelming, it's a wonderful sensation to be able to focus in on a tiny detail of this colossal building and see the imprint of an individual hand. The paint scraps on the choir screen brought this home to me. Cathedrals are very physical buildings for me: this is the act of painting. Someone skilled, carrying out a job, to serve a greater purpose.

Sometimes I get to do things like this, too. This was the first time I had ever walked a triforium. This was the first time I had ever been inside a Cathedral and looked down.

This is Nick. He's the Cathedral Architect & was the one showing me around all day. This photo made me think a lot about the role that Nick plays in the history and conservation of this building, and other similar buildings in his care. Sure, he works with the clergy and with the stone masons, making sure that everything is as ship-shape as possible, but they're only temporary guardians.

The team of caretakers and craftspeople that look after this building know it inside out. They get to walk in the triforiums, over the aisle vaulting, in the very veins of the building. They're the heart that keep it pumping, keep it ticking over, keep it serving the people that come to worship and visit. And then. Then they pass that responsibility on to someone else. It's someone else's turn to learn the ropes, and ladders, and tiny passageways.

My visits to Lincoln have given me a rare insight into this way of life. I got to learn more about the building in a day than I have in weeks, months, years of studying. Hopefully, I'll get to help keep it ticking over, but most importantly, it's given me a shot in the arm and the reassurance that I am doing what I love.

It definitely can't be all bad when you're this close to a piece of medieval stained glass that you would never have noticed from the ground.
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Sunday, 24 January 2016

Lincoln Cathedral: Infinity Made Imaginable

A long time ago, in a tiny fishing village in Fife, a wide-eyed & clueless third year took a seat in European Gothic Architecture. What resulted was a life-long love affair.

Dr Luxford is a brilliant man with so much knowledge in his head you can practically see it falling out of his ears. Not only that, he is a passionate and encouraging teacher, and his support during that 12 week module made me start to consider myself an architectural historian. That module ended up being my best grade throughout my entire university experience, & you may remember that I took a trip to Canterbury Cathedral to celebrate.

Reading back over that 2011 entry was very eye-opening. It was the first time I had ever really been to a great Gothic building, and one I had studied so intensely, too. I compared it to the first time I visited a Gothic building for my job, early last year. I was so incredibly aware of everything my undergraduate work had taught me.

But I never expected this.

The Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Lincoln. Or Lincoln Cathedral to you & me.

Now, at the beginning of December I had to spend 3 days in Lincoln for work. I won't go into the details because they are incredibly boring & difficult to explain to someone not actually involved in the project. But also, this post isn't about the project in the slightest. It's about this incredible mass of stone and art and faith and music and light... and everything else in between.

It's such a stunning building, & on my first night in Lincoln the mists were so low that they created this wonderful Gothick impression that was utterly overwhelming & atmospheric. Plus, I'm a sucker for Christmas lights.

I loved that the Cathedral was lost and dissolved in the air. It's such a massive monument but it's not as strong as the elements. It also gave me a very visual impression of the idea of the Cathedral as a heavenly space on earth. That's a concept I always have difficulty with, as an atheist, but it's a symbol that I can read and understand in the way buildings are created and how people use them. By the towers getting lost in the mist, it was almost as though the Cathedral had no boundaries. It was being enveloped into the atmosphere, into heaven, into infinity.

Even when it's half-invisible the Cathedral still stands watch over the rest of the town. I'd never really spent any time in Lincoln before & it is undoubtedly a lovely city, made lovelier by the fortuitous combination of weather and fairy lights.

But, my friends, that was only an introduction.
The following day I spent over 8 hours in the Cathedral. I'm sure you can imagine how many photographs I took. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Into the Wilde

Flying by with a short & sweet entry to try & keep me sharp & on track with posting my photographs. Because, let's be honest, I'm pretty awful at it!

When I was at university I never would have predicted how far and wide "real life" outside of the bubble would scatter my friends. Sometimes though, you get lucky, and one of them is close enough to visit, but far enough way to require hopping on a plane over the water.

I had only ever been to Northern Ireland before I booked my flights to Dublin to see Giorgia. To be honest, I didn't know anything about Dublin, except for the Oscar Wilde alarm bells ringing in my brain. For once, however, I didn't mind. Unlike almost every other trip I've taken on a big tin-can in the sky, this one wasn't for site seeing, but for quality-time-spending with a friend. Luckily, Giorgia & I do have some shared interests that led us to spending a very rainy day taking in the art that Dublin had to offer. She also made sure we at least did one extraordinarily touristy thing; I must admit that I did rather enjoy my Irish coffee in Temple Bar, listening to fiddle music.

I'm also a sucker for anything Christmassy. & boy oh boy did they know their way around a box of decorations.

We did manage to stumble across a teeny bit of architecture along the way, too.

I did spare her the obligatory Oscar Wilde pilgrimage, however, and waited until she was at work to go and pay my respects to my main man. I crept up on him a bit, though.

I had taken myself for a long coffee with a good book before going to visit Oscar. I will be forever disappointed that you can't see inside his house unless you're on a pre-booked group tour (I did stand and frown at the house in dismay for a little while).

It's a horrible caricature, don't get me wrong. It makes me think, though, that this kind of modern caricature is one of respect and memorial, which means it's a monument against those late-Victorian Punch cartoons that satirised, The poet is Wilde, but his poetry's tame.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Kind Friends, Gather Round

I must warn you, what comes follows is the photographic representations of one of the best night so of my life. I'm not even joking.

I have loved Seth Lakeman for a long time. It must be about 10 years by now. I got to see him live at a seated gig 2009, then again in 2010, and again earlier this year. All of those were great, don't get me wrong, but they pale in comparison to the 23rd of October, 2015.

I couldn't not go to this gig. It was in Chester, which was perfect for me, & it was a small standing venue. So I bought two tickets on a whim and ended up taking Nanna Pat with me, grandmother of mystery and legend in the office. She tried to sit down at the back but I managed to drag her to the front with my camera, which really ended up paying off. I've been secretly lacing her iPod with Seth Lakeman for a few years & it was brilliant to see her dancing along to the songs she knew.

My goal for the gig was to take some pictures that I was really proud of. Unfortunately, coaxing Nanna Pat to the front took a little while & I ended up off to the left, which means that all of my pictures have a slightly annoying microphone silhouette. But on the plus side, we must have been isolated enough to catch his attention when singing every. single. word.

The off-centre position also meant that I had a great view of the collaboration between Seth & Jack Rutter on guitar. Man, they were having so much fun it was utterly infectious.

These two photographs ended up being two of my favourites. Every time I've seen Seth, I've always come away thinking, gosh, I wish I could play the fiddle. & these photographs kind of encapsulate that for me. I think it's the look on his face in the blue one above. He just looks so happy.

I was treated to many instrumental breakdowns with Seth and Jack over to stage-left. Some excellent grimacing faces and banjo work all-round.

Objectively, this was probably the best gig I've been to. Not just Seth... everybody. That is entirely down to the music, but like everything else, your experiences are coloured by the context of your life. & I'll be honest, I wasn't in a very good place when I dragged myself through the door into that grotty bar in Chester.

But Seth brought me out of it. The time I spent leaning on the barrier with my camera, exaggeratedly mouthing song lyrics to my nanna, was the happiest I had been in weeks. There was nothing else in the world for me other than being in that room and taking it all in.

Seth Lakeman playing Kitty Jay live is one of the most intense and satisfying experiences in the world, I swear it. It's in every show, he must have played it half a million times, but it never gets any less impressive or enchanting. Even live videos don't really capture it; there's nothing quite like seeing it in the flesh.

The band leaves the stage, the lights go crazy, & you're left with Seth Lakeman, a fiddle, and a stamping block... all of which look like they've taken a beating by the end of it. I swear this man must keep the entire bow industry in business as it tends to look like he's waving a fishing rod around by the end of this song.

Right about then was when I decided I was going to learn to play the fiddle.

& right about then I realised that Seth Lakeman might actually be my favourite musician. I think he's overtaken Teddy Thompson, even the mighty Bublé, to claim his rightful top spot.

Just to top everything off... I got to meet him, too. & he signed my vinyl. He clearly loves me more than he loves everyone else. It's obvious, you can tell.

I had met him once before back in 2009, and I was determined not to garble my words like a fool this time. I think I managed a very polite, "would you please sign this for me? Thank you!" & "I'm sorry, could I please get a selfie, too? A Seth selfie?" - a request he was happy to oblige. I walked away with this picture, which was the best souvenir I could have imagined.

Everything turned around for me that night, at least a little bit.

& the next morning... mum bought me a fiddle.