Tag Archives: Out and About

Highgate Cemetery, London

Highgate Cemetery website

If you’re visiting London and you want to escape into a cool, green space while learning something interesting and being somewhere a bit different, Highgate Cemetery is the place to go.

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I’ve been twice so far. The first time it was a beautiful sunny day; in photography terms this meant a lot of contrast to deal with. The second time it was raining so hard that rivers of rainwater were running down the paths, the guide said he’d never seen anything like it, and a lot of people on my tour just gave up. Not ideal for photography.

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It’s split into two sides; the east side you can visit fairly easily, you just pay a small entrance fee towards upkeep, it was £12 for an adult last time I went. Here you’ll see the graves of Karl Marx and Douglas Adams amongst others. If you want to see the west, older side of the cemetery, you’ll have to book. You get a knowledgeable tour guide to show you around though, and on both guided visits I’ve found the whole thing fascinating.

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It’s a great place to take photos, but be aware that you can’t usually use a tripod and being so overgrown in places it’s very dark and shady in some spots. If you’re using film you’ll need to use a reasonably high speed. If you can’t decide on film or digital, in this case I’d go for digital as there’s a lot of contrast on a sunny day and you’ll tend to get a better dynamic range with most digital cameras. But obviously it all depends on the visual result you want.

I’ve noticed that The Royal Photographic Society sometimes organise photography trips to Highgate Cemetery and if you’re a member and manage to get on one of those trips you might be able to take a tripod.

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Douglas Adams; for me, the most loved person buried here as evidenced by the amount of tiny gifts, whole pots full of pens, and general bits and pieces left here.

So for all my talk of results in terms of photography, I haven’t really done much with these images as yet as you can probably see. I have a lot that I would like to desaturate to create a set of black and white images. But I cannot escape the fact that that is what most people do and so maybe I should avoid it. I have a much better camera with really fast lenses now and so when I go back again I might be able to get better results.

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Obviously, check the website before you go to Highgate. Always remember you’re in a graveyard and there are people there who are visiting the graves of relatives and loved ones, so respect their privacy.

I hope that goes without saying!

Notre Dame, Paris

I’ve visited Notre Dame Cathedral three times. The first time I was about 15 years old, and living in a children’s home. We’d been taken on holiday as a group and spent a week in a children’s home in France, a few days at a campsite, and a few days skiing in Switzerland. I remember taking photos of Notre Dame at that time, but sadly I no longer have them.

Shots from my second visit to Notre Dame, the exterior:

My second time at Notre Dame was May 2017 on a trip to Paris with my partner, and the third time was October 2017 when we returned for a short trip with our teenage boys. We had decided there were places in Paris that were essential for them to see, and Notre Dame was one of them.

Shots from my second visit to Notre Dame, the interior;

On both of my recent visits, Notre Dame had a large queue outside which can be off-putting, but it moved quickly. It’s a place of worship; quietness was encouraged and I think the dark interior helped to enforce that at a subliminal level. The crowd moved anti-clockwise around the perimeter, and many people then paused to light candles or stopped at the end of their visit to pray. To create the sense of a place of worship while simultaneously allowing visitors of all faiths and none to enjoy the beauty of the interior was intelligently done. Next time I am in Paris I will certainly miss visiting it while the renovations are completed, but I look forward to seeing it rebuilt.

From my third visit to Notre Dame, the exterior;

I’m not religious, but I understand the significance Notre Dame has for the religious and non-religious in France. When I saw the news that Notre Dame was on fire my heart went out to the people of France. It is such a significant symbol, for a Londoner it would be like seeing Big Ben go up in flames. After the recent fire, I imagine it will be impossible to visit the cathedral for some time, but I would certainly recommend visiting the area and supporting the local cafes and shopkeepers; in my experience they were friendly and exceptionally patient with my very poor French.

From my third visit, the interior. I was sharing my camera with my children so some of these are taken on an iPhone SE;

Earlier this year I handmade a book of photographs, called ‘Languages of Light’. It’s an accordion book to allow the entire book to be folded out as a display. It is bound in orange-red book-cloth and held shut with a band made of three pieces of paper that represent the Christian trinity.

In Languages of Light I wanted to question and challenge the religious understanding about the role of women in Christianity. It contained scriptural text paired with  photographs from Notre Dame, Salisbury Cathedral and from a local church – St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth. (Mary Shelley, the author of Frankenstein, is buried there).

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Now that Notre Dame has suffered such destruction, the book takes on a new significance for me, as do the photographs I had wanted to use but couldn’t in the original context; in total I have nearly 300 images to choose from. I think I might create a book of photographs from Notre Dame without text and cover it in a silk book-cloth. It takes some time for me to do this, but now it feels like capturing a part of history and so I feel it’s important to create a physical record that will last.

(Tech info in case you’re interested: these were shot on an Olympus EM10 II (I think, but my son is borrowing it at the moment so I can’t check) and an iPhone SE)