Project Development

St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town

At more than 8000 miles from Oxford, and substantially too large to be a chapel, St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town is definitely off-piste where my research project is concerned.  However, located immediately across the road from my hotel, it seemed foolish not to venture within.  It provided me with the opportunity to experiment with more straightforward image capture ( using an iPhone 7 and Canon G3X) as well as providing me with the opportunity to expand the reach of my Instagram site beyond the confines of Oxford.  These images were captured with the aid of a tiny table-top tripod, placed on the floor, necessitating rather more correction of converging verticals than I would like. However, all such experiences, good or bad, help improve my technique and allow me to try techniques very different to my more usual work with full frame cameras.

Access to churches in South Africa is not always a matter of walking in.  While staying in Stellenbosch, several visits to the stunning Dutch Reform Church proved fruitless, as it was secured on each occasion.  St. Georges Cathedral required four visits before I gained access and even then, it was for just fifteen minutes.

The Cathedral Church of St George the Martyr, to give it it’s full title, is the oldest cathedral in Southern Africa and the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town (the seat of the Archbishop of Cape Town).  Designed by Sir Herbert Baker, with the foundation stone laid in 1901, the cathedral replaced a church built in 1834 on the same site, and is still incomplete.  The stained glass windows are numerous and varied in terms of age, size, shape and style.  My brief visit could not possibly do the site justice.  Indeed I did not even see all of the windows – hardly surprising when I spend more than twice that time carrying out a planning visit to a small Oxford chapel!

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Christ in Triumph over Darkness and Evil (Gabriel Loire, 1982) St. George’s Cathedral, Cape Town.

In memory of Lord Louis Mountbatten, the three lights of this window were sponsored by ex-servicemen and women. It was created by French artist Gabriel Loire and was initially installed as just the single central light, with the smaller lights commissioned once funds were available.  It is not often that I have the opportunity to compare a completed window with the vidimus, but the image below depicts the window as it was designed to be (sadly a very poor quality image), with a few notable differences to the window above.

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All of these images were captured at some speed, to the extent that errors were made.  While not to be repeated, the whimsical nature of the light trails coming from the rose window in the unedited image below does add an certain ethereal presence to the scene.

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The Lady Chapel was added in 1962 and houses four lights by Francis Spear (and English stained glass artist and lithographer).  At the east end was a circular window above the alter, and to the west end were three smaller, rectangular lights:

In post production, I always remove the surroundings from the stained glass windows, but todays sojourn revealed one of the smaller lights in a setting where the illumination it provided extended its beauty beyond the confines of the glass, flowing onto the surrounding stonework.  It seemed appropriate to leave the image uncropped:

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I do very much like the appearance of this image, and would happily peruse such things were I content to set aside months of my existing research and contact again all of the Colleges requesting to photograph their artwork in a different style and to a different end.  I have previously explained that the bright light that generates such images is detrimental to the work I set out to achieve as it creates significant shadow (Into the sun): bright sunlight is no friend to the process I have adopted.

It is both wonderful and fascinating to observe the projections of light – it plays into the scientific nature of my brain: almost any child will tell you about the creation of a rainbow as white light passes through a prism… if educated appropriately the will go so far as to explain about the refraction of light.

For me, looking at the light traces that have passed through stained glass, I always wonder how many people consider the effect that the coloured glass is having on the beams of light: while they may well appreciate that glass has an influential effect on the light, I wonder if they realise that the position of the beam will have been influenced further by the colour of the glass?  Consequently the light passing through red glass, for example, will create red beams that have shifted a very small amount further because the absorption of blue light, green light, and indeed all of the other colours of light: red glass has a minutely different refractive index to plain glass.

That change in refractive index (that is to say, the change in angle of light beam) will be different for each different colour of glass.  Put another way… a lump of glass will cause a light beam to refract (bend) a certain amount; a lump of glass with identical physical properties, but of a different colour, will cause the light beam to refract very slightly differently because some of the light is being absorbed into the glass.  The greater the amount of light absorbed by the glass, the greater will be the change in refractive index (the amount of bend) of the beam of light.

To add further complexity, the colour temperature of the daylight passing through the glass will also influence the angle of refraction.

To me, that is properly interesting science, well worthy of investigation.  However, it would not make for particularly interesting photography.

The lights either side did not share this effect, as a result of partial shading by trees, so I cropped them as I would were they part of my portfolio:

Should I ever wish to extend my project, there is clearly a huge diversity and wealth of stained glass that could be revealed, particularly in a country such as South Africa, where security concerns force churches to remain closed when there is no service taking place.

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