Magazine article The Spectator

In the Cold Light of Dawn

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Cold Light of Dawn

Article excerpt

Henrietta Leyser The English Cathedral photographs by Peter Marlow, with texts by Martin Barnes and John Goodall Merrell Publishers, £45, pp. 127, ISBN 9781858945903 In The English Cathedral Peter Marlow of Royal Mail fame (his photographs of eight world heritage sites were used on stamps in 2005 and in 2008 of six British cathedrals) has given us a complete set of photographs of England's 42 Anglican cathedrals. Anyone who can name all 42 surely deserves an extra Christmas present, but those looking for a luscious coffee-table book to give away should be warned that this volume, despite appearances - it is very large and all text appears discreetly at the back - is not it.

The English Cathedral is a remarkably austere book. The photographs are nearly all taken from west to east, just after sunrise and in natural light. Martin Barnes in his introduction describes Marlow as having 'adopted a kind of ritual, rising as early as 3 a. m.' so as to be sure of securing the right conditions for his work. The result, according to Barnes, is photographs that convey 'a personal, contemplative encounter'.

The quasi-monastic horarium suggested here might seem singularly appropriate for those cathedrals built expressly for the celebration of the Benedictine liturgy, when monks would regularly have been at prayer at dawn; but it is of course misleading to imagine that even then they would ever have had any of the puritanical beauty which is the hallmark of Marlow's photographs. …

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