Six years ago, I won a commission to photograph eight British
cathedrals for the Royal Mail. Subsequently, with English
Cathedrals by Edwin Smith and Olive Cook as my guide, and a
pack of "Anglican Cathedrals of England" Top Trumps, I set out to
photograph all 42.
I began by photographing the aesthetic highlights of each
building, but the images seemed to merge into one another. In order
to differentiate each place, I needed to find a more rigorous and
systematic approach, and so I adopted the simple strategy of
photographing the naves, looking along the central axis.
There were other decisions to be made: whether to photograph
from the east or west, for example. I always tried both, and often
entered during darkness, setting up my equipment in front of the
west door, and waiting for the sun to come up behind the altar. The
viewpoint added depth to the visual experience of the building, and
the discipline of this strict approach was liberating, as I simply
looked, allowing the power of the place to unfold in the dark.
The sense of mystery was absent, however. I found it by accident
at Rochester, just before dawn. When I entered, the lights were all
turned off, and the huge, silent space seemed locked in time, as if
it were there just for me. In the half darkness, the very air was
tangible. I knew then that this was what I needed to discover in
all the cathedrals.
It was not easy to arrange to have the lights turned off, but I
soon realised that it was essential, allowing the buildings to come
quietly to life in the tentative morning light. When the lights
finally went back on, as services began and visitors and school
groups started to arrive, the magic evaporated at the click of a
The photographs are in the PDF or paper versions of the
Church Times on page 20. Identify as many as you can. Answers
on page 30.
These photographs can be seen at the Wapping Project
Bankside gallery, 65a Hopton Street, London SE1 9LR. For more
details phone 020 7981 9851, or visit the website
The photographs also appear in The English Cathedral
by Peter Marlow, published by Merrell at £45 (Church Times Bookshop price