Monday, 31 October 2011

Taking My Kew

Kew Palace

This weekend, I had the fantastic opportunity to go on a photographic course at Kew Palace, in Richmond. It was run by Historic Royal Palaces and led by photographer Emily Harris. I love taking pictures of architecture, as I hope my Facebook and Flickr pages show, but I was useless at photographing indoors and this course was specifically for learning how to capture historic interiors with a digital SLR camera. We were a select group of 7 and had the small but perfectly formed “Palace” to ourselves as the place is officially closed to the public in the autumn and winter months.

Kew Palace is one of HRP’s more recent restorations. I had the privilege of visiting it half way through the restoration/conservation back in 2006, so it was a pleasure to see the place in a more finished state. Not that it is has been completely returned to resemble a royal residence. While some rooms have been painstakingly decorated and furnished to show how the house may have looked in about 1808, there are whole rooms untouched, with bare floorboards and unfinished walls. These allow you to see how the walls were constructed, layer by layer and give a fleeting look at the earlier, 17th century fabric of the building behind.

Kew Palace has its origins in the 16th century, with a Tudor undercroft as testament. It used to be called The Dutch House as it is constructed in the unmistakeable Dutch style and inside is laid out over 3 floors with the undercroft below and servants living quarters in the attic.

The exterior structure we see today was built in the 17th century, the home of a wealthy merchant and was then converted to be a home for King George III his wife Queen Charlotte and 10 of their 15 children. Spending my day there, I learned that the house was mainly for the children and the Queen. George lived in an extension to the house, long since demolished. This was because George III was the unfortunate monarch who suffered from the disease “Porphyria” which manifested itself mainly in apparent raving madness.

But in his moments of sanity George and his wife were a devoted loving couple, who enjoyed the relative simplicity and small scale living at Kew with their children. Not that it was much fun for 3 of their daughters who lived there; liking its remoteness and their lack of a social life to being in a nunnery!

When one’s abiding passions are historic buildings and photography there isn’t much about an historic interiors photography day at Kew that I could fault. In fact there wasn’t. As a result, I like to think I can now take a mean interior shot and that this’ll translate in the research I prepare for my clients. But above all, my abiding memory will be having such privileged access for a whole day in one of Historic Royal Palace’s most beautiful and remarkable buildings.

Some of the photographs I took from the day will be posted on the Historic Buildings Research Facebook page and on my Flickr page too.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Recording the New: The Architectural Photography of Bedford Lemere & Co. 1870-1930

The Victoria & Albert Museum Entrance Under Construction in 1908 (Sir Aston Webb)

Copyright RIBA Library Collection

If you find yourself in London between now and the end of the month I recommend a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the last days of an exhibition co-curated by the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) and English Heritage, showing the work of the architectural photography firm Bedford Lemere & Co.

In my work I am always pleased if the photographs of Bedford Lemere come up on my search radar. The amount of information I can extract from one image is invaluable, whether it’s comparing changes in the external appearance of the building with the structure today or seeing how the house was decorated or furnished over 100 years ago.

43 Harrington Gardens circa 1897
Copyright NMR English Heritage

At the company’s height it only employed a maximum of four photographers but photographed the work of many leading architects of the Victorian and Edwardian period. Bedford Lemere‘s sharp definition greatly appealed to their clients – architects, contractors and building owners – who above all wished to obtain an almost documentary record of the work they had carried out or commissioned.

Photographer, Bedford Lemere established his commercial photography business in the 1860s and he, his son Harry and the company became famous for their architectural images. The firm continued into the 1940s and English Heritage and the RIBA now own a huge collection of their work numbering over 8,000 images originally photographed on 12” x 10” plates.

The external images stand out from contemporaries because apparently Bedford Lemere worked to a set formula that involved photographing buildings first thing in the morning with the crisp early light and with very few people around. The clarity and detail achieved was remarkable and sometimes it is possible to think that it was taken only yesterday. It is only the lack of cars or satellite dishes or the absence of modern furnishing that tells you otherwise.

Midland Grand Hotel 1890s

Copyright NMR English Heritage