How Like An Angel....

February 16, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

The Scottish philosopher Thomas Carlyle is attributed as saying 'Music is well said to be the speech of Angels'. Although he wasn't exposed to the music of today, I think I get his point! Adjectives immediately begin to fill my mind - soaring, divine, soothing, heavenly, sublime, ethereal, healing, transcending, otherworldly, mystical - descriptions of exquisite states to be in. That said, like with all art forms, music is subjective. You like what you like, and that can change over time.

I think I'm fortunate to enjoy music spanning a broad spectrum of styles - instrumental and vocal, baroque to blues, African to Zydeco - appreciating their musical expression and repertoire, although I wouldn't by any stretch of the imagination claim to understand it all! 

I think it helped that I was introduced to music from a very early age, including time as a chorister and later learning to play flute and sax. My father, Stephen Wilkinson MBE, now 93, trained as musician and I have a daughter, brothers, sisters, aunts who either have or who are currently in that profession.

Thanks to my sister, Clare, a few months ago I had the opportunity of seeing 'How Like An Angel', part of the London 2012 Festival, performed in Ely Cathedral by vocal ensemble I Fagiolini and the Australian contemporary, artistic circus group C!RCA. Entering the cathedral I immediately noticed the smell of candle wax, incense and ancient stone momentarily transporting me back to my days in the choir of Westminster Abbey. A few steps inside the building and it's impossible to resist my eyes being drawn upwards to gaze vaulted ceiling of the nave, some seventy feet above. 

Out of the darkness the illuminated figures of C!RCA performing graceful, contemporary movements were accompanied by musical tones of I Fagiolini. Rosemary Westwell of the Ely Standard reported:

Crouched in some of the dark crevices of the building were live human figures almost fusing with the architecture of the building. Single, gentle notes occasionally emanated from inside. Time seemed irrelevant. We wandered freely, breathing in the absorbing atmosphere.

Then an intriguing primeval ‘beginning-of-the-world’ kind of sound throbbed from the centre. It drew us towards it, tapping into our instinctive sense of curiosity.

Slowly, we gathered to behold where it came from – in the centre of the nave. There seemed no beginning and no end to the sound.

I'd recommend reading her full report here.

After the performance I met up for a drink with Clare and the performers in the Lamb Hotel. Inspired by what I had seen I asked if I could photograph an forthcoming performance. Within a few days I attended rehearsals at Gloucester Cathedral, which dates back to 1089 AD, and which in recent times has provided some of locations for the Harry Potter films. Performances of How Like An Angel have to be adapted in accordance with the design layout and provisions of each venue. Gloucester was different to, but no less impressive than Ely.

Understandably I was not allowed to photograph during the actual performanceI. Nevertheless the rehearsal was a unique experience and I thoroughly enjoyed my afternoon taking photographs of it, which was not a closed affair as the cathedral was still open to visiting members of the public.

The Techi Bit

It was a privilege to have been allowed to photograph this event, even if it was during rehearsals. Three brief points:

  • Low light - lighting levels in cathedrals are not the greatest at the best of times, but this adds to the wonderful ambience, particularly when the sun streams in through stained glass windows or creates shafts of light. However, the day that I was in Gloucester was very dull, overcast and rainy at times. Flash was out of the question. For a start it's not best from a distraction perspective for the acrobats, it's a poor quality of lighting for the subject in mind, and it's probably not powerful enough given the scale of the building and distance of the subjects at times. Stage and performance lghting were in partial use. I've always taken comfort in the phrase 'let noise do its work'. That said, not all noise is pleasing, but handled in the right way it can add a good effect to the image. A camera that has low noise at high ISO really comes into its own here, as it means you can get the shots you need at the shutter speed you require and remain unobtrusively shooting.
  • Framing - the cathedral, it being open to the public, and the opportunity being a rehearsal meant that I really had to hunt for and anticipate the images. Groups of tourists inevitably stood close-by gawping up at the action absolutely where i wanted to be, so i constantly had to look for alternative perspectives. It's also important to try and set some context around the story. It is not enough to zoom in close to the performers in an attempt to isolate them, the story benefitted from wider-angle perspectives, especially in relation to the title. On this occasion if visitors were not in your way, they were in your shots. Patience, canny framing and anticipation is the key, and this includes allowing a visitor to be in a particular place when you take a shot so they can be easily brushed out later, if required. Another approach is just to accept that the world is full of people and that this was a rehearsal open to the public and be done with it. Perspective was an on-going challenge, particulary in relationship to the background, which was ornately busy yet providing excellent framing potential from the vaulted,and arched elements. The challenge is to be able to get into a position such that you can place your moving subject correctly within the frame you have chosen.
  • One final point - even with permission to take photographs, it is always a good thing to ensure that all the performers are aware that this agreement has been made. They'll be far more accommodating of your crouching down low immediately in front of them to get those 'unusual' angles, and far less distracted from what they are primarily there to do. 'Getting the shot' is important - afterall it's what you've travelled down to do - but a far worse and having and adversely lasting impact would be getting in the way and being a nuisance! Most professional photographers will know how to work the situation, knowing just how to confidently nip in or when to duck out and stand clear, and when to just leave alone. And don't forget to say 'thank you' before you depart.

 

I hope you have enjoyed a little of this shared experience. If you have any photography requirements - weddings, corporate, headshots, portfolios, parties, gigs, blogshots, website pics, please contact me or give me a call and I'll be more than happy to have a no-obligation chat with you.

Single images of How Like An Angel may be seen here or enjoy the slideshow, below.

 


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