Back in 2017 I was in York for a talk for Bishopthorpe Camera Club, and on that trip, on a beautiful late October day, in about 2 hours, I made a handful of images that were amongst my favourites of 2017 and beyond! In 2019 I returned to this historic city…
When York Photographic Society asked me to do a talk in November, I jumped at the chance to return to the beautiful city as there was a location or two I missed out previously, and I wanted to re-shoot some locations from differing angles that I’d researched (and of course enjoy giving my usual talk about my ICM photography later on).
With the talk in the evening I gave myself plenty of time from my arrival via the train (treated myself to first class due to a cheap upgrade) to when I was being picked up by the generous David Beverley, who I was staying with overnight. Arriving after 11 and getting picked up at 4pm I had a planned on about 4 hours to get around everything. Yes, I had time to get around what I wanted, but unfortunately the weather wasn’t playing ball. Flat grey skies, not a hint of light, and by early afternoon it was raining lightly but steadily. Spoiler – I was crestfallen by mid-afternoon.
After hurriedly getting to Clifford’s Tower, the remaining keep of the old York Castle (and getting a little lost on the way – I took an unneeded scenic route) I got there to find the entrance covered in scaffolding! The scourge of a photographer!! Even to me, scaffolding is a pain to deal with. Thankfully you don’t really need the view of the tower with the entrance showing, there are 4 sides to it after all.
The first image made here ended up very abstract as the blended layers came about. Not what I usually go for but though the colours (or lack of them) gave a pleasant feeling. Contrasting with the darker vision I had with the next image. Bringing in a nightscape view of the tower, possibly a view that prisoners due to be executed would have seen as they lived out their final hours.
The theme of the day developed, with the weather not helping, everything I shot looked bland on the back of the camera, I was thoroughly unexcited by what was being presented no matter how I moved. Being unexcited, I shot more – playing the numbers game, the more you shoot, the higher the chance of getting SOMETHING to work with.
One of my favourite locations in York is The Shambles. The narrow street with the distinctive old overhanging buildings, and back in 2017 I came away a pretty killer image. I tried to recreate this, and this time I don’t think I was successful, or as successful than 2017. The time of day was earlier and obviously being a main tourist hub, The Shambles was crammed. Not the best of conditions for a fat guy waving a camera around fairly wildly.
After the Shambles, I was off up the hill to spend time around the externals of York Minster. From a multitude of viewpoints, the Minster would take up almost the rest of my day.
Some issues of shooting this type of large-scale architecture are lens limitations, and street layouts. While the grandiose building is a wonder to the eye, trying to cram in main elements of it within your limited frame, even with a wide-angle lens can be near impossible when the layout of your surroundings don’t allow you to step far enough back, or not stepping into private property. Photographing York Minster has this problem. Had I been making straight photographs, getting high and shooting with a long lens would be the option. However, to get best control of motion I find its best to use a wide lens, so I’m stuck at street level and in close proximity.
The eastern elevation from College Street was less constrained, though lacked the distinctive view incorporating either the towers of the main entrance or the huge central tower. Composing the elevation and the timber St William’s College building felt like it might work out, and eventually after editing I think it has.
With bland skies and no colour, introducing strong colour to the raw images before combining layers together, made for more distinctive and interesting results. Without these amendments, these views would have been as bland as the grey skies.
Moving around to the southern elevation and the building’s colossal scale was the main issue, something I found in 2017. For all this view is stunning, capturing on camera with a 16mm lens and retaining a pleasing composition is nigh on impossible. So thus, I struggled again with the images I made, until a story began to be told during editing. As I moved shapes around and mixed layers the minster faded away to be replaced by bright fiery furnace shining out from beyond a gothic city gate. My imagination running away with me again!
Next, getting outside of the old medieval walls seemed to be the only option to have a chance of capturing the two entrance towers of the Minster rising high above the streets below. Exiting through Bootham Bar (an old gateway) and working from in front of York Art Gallery I was getting something akin to what I had been envisaging. Though again, the dull weather made it difficult to capture any textures or shapes from street level (I was hoping Bootham Bar, would show in the images I was capturing). What I was picking up from street level was the traffic as it waited at lights right in the middle of my shots.
Seeing things really weren’t on my side and still a couple of hours until I was being picked up, I wandered the streets aimlessly, finally deciding to go to the Museum Gardens, where the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey lie. St Mary’s is the subject of one my favourite pieces and I wasn’t keen on trying to make lightning strike twice – especially in unhelpful conditions. I felt things were pretty desperate though, so I had that to fall back on.
Frustration, frustration is all I felt standing in front of the sparse rubble ruins that had provided me with such a creative high 2 years previously. No light, vastly different conditions to 2017’s visit, more people around, and I couldn’t quite nail the spot that composition came from. I did all that I could with the years of experience to force the data into my camera and give me the best chance of being able to concoct something later. Walking past a rubbish bin I could easily have dumped the brand-new CF card that had the day’s 900 shots on …then it began to rain. That was me done for the day. My highlight of the day wandering, was loading my pockets after a visit to a traditional sweet shop, jars on the wall and all. The sugar rush from devouring a bag of gummy sweets was all that brought my mood back. The rain got heavier, the skies darker and thankfully time ticked round to when David was picking me up.
The following morning, after the evenings talk and the welcoming hospitality of the Beverley’s, the skies were still laden and with an hour until my train back north to kill, I had 20 minutes on the walls opposite the station looking back toward the Minster again. Some creative editing has had to been deployed here too!
Of course, time out “on site” is only a small part of my photography, the bulk is in the editing process where the images come about. I spent 3 episodes of my regular Tuesday Live Streams, dedicated to making images from York, some less successfully than others! You can see these here Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.
What I found from this trip, and the significant time after creating the images, is that when conditions are disparaging in the field, the initial vision and knowledge of processing/editing mean so much when it comes to, in a way, salvaging the day. I had to delve deep into my imagination, visual interpretations, and post processing skills. It has been a slog to get through these images, but in the end, I think I’ve got a few worth showing off. I hope you think so too.
‘Til the next one, ‘keep a had!’
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