Symmetry in Stone focuses on images of eleven Gothic buildings, all cathedrals and abbeys still in use in South-West England. The photographs explore and celebrate the architecture of these sites, specifically focusing on the lines, shape and forms of their interiors. Alternating between grand images of the aisles, naves and transepts that make up the walls of cathedrals and abbeys, and dramatic panoramas of the vaulted ceilings that sweep overhead, the photographs try to provide some sense of the power and majesty of these incredible spaces.
I have always been enamoured with architecture, a passion rooted in growing up in a city surrounded by historic military architecture (a subject I explored in my 2002 exhibition Nothing Beside Remains), and living in Northern England for a time during my youth. From exploring the Halifax Defence Complex, to climbing around ruined castles in England, architecture has always held a special place in my heart.
In 2008, during a visit to Scotland, my love of Gothic architecture was kindled. For five days of that trip, I photographed ruined castles and abbeys, and while I reveled in the images, the fact the locations were in ruins prevented them from speaking of the architecture alone. It seemed impossible to separate the beauty of the buildings from the history that had left them scarred and empty, and the images had a haunting quality that interfered with the celebration of the structures themselves.
The vaulting above the choir and altar in Worcester Cathedral was a dramatic contrast to the bare stone above the nave. Built in an early English style very similar to Salisbury, the painted ceiling has been cleaned and restored, and is a wonderful companion to the five narrow windows at the eastern end of the cathedral.
These bell pulls are attached to small bells for calls to worship, but further above, in the tower proper, are the real thing. The South Tower at Wells holds a peal of ten bells (1757-1964). These are the heaviest ring of ten bells in the world, with a tenor bell that weighs 6,272 pounds (2,845 kg). They are hung for full circle ringing in the English style.
The desire to photograph the painted ceiling above the quire in Tewkesbury was the greatest single inspiration for the images created for Symmetry in Stone. I’d seen images of the vaulting, but none that did full justice to what was hinted at in the photographs. Through advanced camera and processing techniques. I managed to create an image of the entire ceiling, focusing on the beautiful painted vaulting, while still paying homage to the wonderful sweep of stained glass windows that supports it
Winchester Cathedral has the longest nave of any Gothic cathedral in Europe. Originally built with a flat ceiling (1079-1120), the entire nave was remodeled from 1345-1404 to match the perpendicular style of the day (in fact, only eight columns were recut - the other columns were slimmed down and re-clad with stone to change the style). It was at this time (~1394) that the current elaborately vaulted ceiling was added to the nave.
The beautiful nave arcade (the bottom row of arches) in Hereford Cathedral was originally constructed between 1102 and 1115, and is almost all that is left of the original Norman church. The upper arches (the clerestory) were added in the middle of the 13th century, when the building was renovated extensively. All of these elements blend beautifully with the modern crown of thorns suspended below the central tower.
Completed by 1306, this is where the church canons met daily to discuss business. The original stained glass windows were smashed by Cromwell’s soldiers during the English Civil War (1642-61). The roof, known as a tierceron vault, has 32 ribs (called tiercerons) springing from the central shaft. While not quite a fan vault, it was one of the important architectural steps towards developing the fan vault.
For the most part, the quire of Hereford Cathedral remains unchanged from its original Norman design (1079-1148). Only the ceiling, the clerestory and early English Windows above the altar, and the pillar beyond the far archway, are of a later design. I have always loved the solidity of Norman architecture, and there was no other cathedral in which I felt this more than in Hereford, seeing the massive columns supporting the curved arches.
While the most famous tomb at Winchester Cathedral is that of Jane Austen, the chantry and tomb of William of Wykeham (famous for his motto “manners maykth man”) is much more elaborate. The Bishop of Winchester from 1366-1404, William was the founder of Winchester College, and New College, Oxford.
The ceiling above the rich red western doors to Winchester cathedral is incredible to view from directly below: the lines and forms of the vaulting create a great sense of motion, some of which is related in this image. The irony of the inclusion of this image in Symmetry in Stone is I chose it specifically because of its colour (red), yet the image has the least colour of any of the photographs in the show.
The cloisters at Gloucester Cathedral were built between 1351 and 1412, and are one of the earliest examples of fan-tracery in all of England. Much of the stonework of the cloisters is overlaid upon earlier Norman walls from two hundred years earlier. The dramatically wide angle of this image gives some sense of the beauty of these magnificent halls.
George Edmund Street rebuilt the Nave of Bristol Cathedral in the 19th century, but rather than imitating the unique medieval pattern, he simply kept the delicate proportions of the ribs and mouldings and created a conservative vault ending in a Rose Widow. The window is uncommon in English architecture.
While many of the sites I photographed contained a great blend of architectural styles, Salisbury is famed for being almost completely built in the same style. The simple elegance of Early English Gothic is particularly evident in this view from the presbytery towards the Lady Chapel at the east end of the cathedral.
While not a cathedral, the wealth of Bristol’s merchants made St. Mary’s one of the most elegant parish churches in all of England. The view down the nave to the east window is spectacular, with the terracotta tiles and the thorn-inspired vaulting providing a base and cap to the beautifully proportioned nave arcade.
There was little I saw in South-West England that was as engaging as this font, designed by William Pye in 2008 to celebrate 750 years of architecture. Combining a still surface and running water, the font fills the cathedral with the sound of living water, and served as a perfect reflecting pool to work with photographically. I had to wait for fifteen minutes or more until I could make a composition had no people in it, but the investment was more than worth it.
The beauty of Sherborne Abbey lies in the juxtaposition of the early Norman structure with the Perpendicular renovations, laid directly over the earlier walls and windows. This image has the heavy Norman pillar supporting the central tower on the right, and provides a view through the redressed Norman arch, into the wonderful painted 15th century choir seen beyond the pulpit.
The vaulting at Sherborne (finished in 1490) is one of the most famous examples of William Smyth’s designs (who also designed ceilings at Wells and Milton Abbey). During this renovation, a town riot caused extensive damage, including the reddening of some of the walls around the tower. Much of redesign actually consisted of encasing earlier Norman pillars and walls in perpendicular stone paneling.
Each of the abbeys and cathedrals I photographed had awe-inspiring vaulting, but Salisbury was one of the few naves that I could record from end to end; the window above the west door anchors the image, while at the very top, the centre of the tower crossing may be seen.
The fan vaulting for which Bath Abbey is so famous is not original, but neither is it a 19th century imposition. When the church was restored in the 1860s by Sir George Gilbert Scott he arranged the vaulting of the choir according to the design by William and Robert Vertue, who vaulted the nave of Bath, and the Henry VII Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey in the early 16th century.
The nave of Tewkesbury maintains the simple, massive Norman piers and arches from the original building. The vaulted roof partially conceals the clerestory windows, and gives the entire nave a low, heavy feel. Before the 13th century clerestory and arches were added, a flat paneled ceiling would have crossed from above the arches, even more dramatically dwarfing the scale of the nave below. In the 19th century the vaulting was whitewashed, but it has recently been restored.
Bristol Cathedral was conceived as a “hall church” with the aisles the same height as the choir and nave. As a result the vaulting is very unique, designed to let as much light into the church as possible. This German Gothic style is rare in Britain, but was maintained and honoured in all the subsequent renovations of the building.
Of all the buildings I photographed for Symmetry in Stone, Worcester Cathedral was the one that provided the most inspiring sense of space. Where the transept and nave crossed, there was such a wonderful expanse of floor it was awe-inspiring. While making this image, I was offered a special tour of the tour (the verger was a keen photographer), but sadly my schedule didn’t permit me to take him up on his offer.
When I was walking through Salisbury, I was struck by the beauty of the overlapping arches when looking from one side of the transept, to the crossing beneath the tower, into the other semitransept. This is one of the few images in the show made with a long lens (as opposed to a wide lens), focusing on a small element of a much larger space.
While the choir of Gloucester Cathedral is renowned for its Perpendicular rebuilding (1337-50), it was the vaulting, particularly under the tower, where the transept and nave crossed, that really caught my eye. In contrast to many of the other cathedrals, this ceiling has yet to be cleaned and restored, and is stained from oil and coal from days gone by - but the grace and elegance of the architecture shines just as brightly.
For most of the week I spent photographing architecture in South-West England, sunlight didn’t play a role in many of the spaces I photographed, either due to the weather or the time of day. At Redcliff St. Mary’s however, I was treated to the beautiful illumination of gothic arches by one of the more colourful windows in the building. Immediately upon seeing the highlights and shadows the light cast upon the arches by the window, I changed camera lenses, and made a detail about the light.
The stunning vaulting of Winchester is most striking at the confluence of the nave and transept, and it was here that I found one of the most compelling images of the project. At the crossing, there is a blend of the flat ceilings of the Norman transepts (11th century) and later Gothic (13th century) vaulting nave and quire, which look just beautiful when married with the ornate 1875 quire screens at the top and bottom edge.