Heritage Open Day: Central Square

Each September there is an event called “Heritage Open Days” when hundreds of interesting properties across England are opened to visitors. Some are not normally open to the public, others have extra tours, rooms, or facilities open for these days.

The Heritage Open Days present many opportunities for photography and I will present a few images here that I was able to take in Newcastle.

This year (2011) the open days were 8th-11th September and I decided to get in early on the first day. Before 9.00am I was standing outside the first venue, to avoid any crowds that might develop.

My first choice was a pair of office buildings in Forth Street, Newcastle, near to the railway station. These are not normally open to the public and only the public areas on the ground floor are available.

I set up my medium format film camera and tripod on the first building, Central Square North, without anyone taking any notice of me and got this shot of the stairwell.
I used my widest lens which has a focal length of 50mm – equivalent to 24mm on a 35mm or full-frame digital, or about 17mm on an APS-C sensor digital camera. In this situation, converging verticals are inevitable, and I was happy to make a feature of them rather than try to reduce or eliminate them.

The camera was loaded with Kodak Portra 400 negative film; this was only the second time I’d used the film and I was concerned that the tonal range between the black staircase base and the window light would cause a problem. I took two exposures, a stop or maybe two apart, with a view to merging them if necessary. As it turned out, they both looked pretty similar once developed, and I think the film coped pretty well with the dynamic range. There’s been quite a bit of discussion on the web about how well this film copes with dynamic range – for an example see Tim Parkin’s article at Landscape GB.

Next up was an artwork sandwiched in an alleyway between the two office buildings, North and South. It’s about 50 feet high and is, sort of, an outstretched arm with a hand opening up to the sky. Because of the scale, and the mottled brown colour, it reminded me of a giraffe’s neck as much as an arm.

Untitled sculpture sandwiched between Central Square North and Central Square South

Despite looking all around, I couldn’t locate any plaque or information board which gave a name to the sculpture or the name of the artist, which I thought was a shame. I’d want a credit if I’d done all that work, although of course receiving a substantial commission is an even better form of reward …

A few yards further on and I entered Central Square South which is the most dramatic portion of this little complex of buildings.

Take me to your leader !

As you can see, the circular atrium is a stunning design and it reminded me of a spaceship design. It’s an interesting point to ponder how much of the credit for an architectural photograph goes to the architect, and how much to the photographer. I think 99.9999% to the architect would be fair, with the photographer claiming the rest, so I’m happy to mention that this splendid building was designed by the architects Carey Jones chapmantolcher.

For this shot, the tripod was set as low to the ground as possible, with the camera pointing directly up to the sky. I was very glad to be able to use the “waist level” finder on the camera – on this occasion the finder was not at waist level but at 90 degrees to the ground, so that I could look into it quite comfortably. With a conventional prism finder, I would have needed to lie on the ground; I will do this when absolutely necessary for a shot but prefer to avoid it if possible !

Well, it was still before 10.00am and I had a few more buildings to fit in, but I’ll leave the Mining Institute, and “Lit & Phil” to another article.


    • Hi Kevin – Neg film is a little wierd as it has 4 stops below a mid tone and 10+ stops (400 has more range than 160) above. You can easily get away with rating it at 100 in order to ensure shadows get pulled out. Nice camera too!


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