Architectural Wanderings

Architectural photography does not have to limit itself to conventionally „pretty” buildings. The appeal of architectural structures and forms often lies in how they fit within a wider image. On the coast of South-East England, Mark Coe searches out such rewarding pictures about buildings and their history with ZEISS lenses.

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 16 mm, f/8, 303, ISO 100
Entrance to Prittlewell Square, Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England
High-res photo on Flickr

For Mark Coe, photography is far more than just taking pictures of things: he wants his images to capture the context in which a building is placed and it relationship to its surroundings, the sky and even the sea.

“You walk by these buildings every day, but few know the history behind them. An example is the park Prittlewell Square, created in the middle of the 19th century in my hometown of Southend-on-Sea. You can see the entrance in this picture. The park was donated by a jeweler who fell in love with the seaside resort that was being created at the time. The clock on the gate is no longer in use: it’s an excellent symbolic monument for time that has stood still.”

Coe’s photographic hobby goes back a long time, but he only started taking pictures seriously about a year and a half ago. “During the last 18 months I have tried 10 lenses from different manufacturers. Then a friend of mine recommended ZEISS, and I finally decided on the ZEISS Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA. This zoom lens has just the right focal-length range that I need and is relatively compact while still delivering outstanding image quality.”

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 16 mm, f/13, 302, ISO 50
Lighthouse in the harbor of Ramsgate, Kent, England
High-res photo on Flickr

Black-and-white photography is an important stylistic element in architectural photography. Doing without color reduces the image and sharpens your view on the essentials. In order to intensify this effect, Mark Coe sometimes works with long exposure times of up to seven minutes. “The black and white give a picture a dramatic effect. You can play so much more with detail and contrast, and also compose the dark and light areas in interaction with each other.”

This picture of the lighthouse at Ramsgate, built in 1842, is an example of that. The lower portion of the image is very dark and that directs one’s view to the top of the image, with the glass and the reflections in it. Interestingly, Coe likes using the Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 because of his preference for black-and-white photography, and in particular for the lens’s color illustration as it it offers excellent conditions for later converting color images into black-and-white.

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 16 mm, f/11, 211, ISO 50
Pleasure pier, Deal, Kent
High-res photo on Flickr

One of the biggest attractions of the coastal town of Deal in Kent is its “pleasure pier”. The original wooden pier dated from 1838. It was later replaced by a metal construction that was then destroyed during World War II. Today’s pier dates from 1957. Along a stretch of about 1000 feet (300 meters) you can walk, fish or eat out. Though the pier was designed for pleasure, its architecture is not that appealing. “What I wanted to capture in this picture was the message: ‘Form does not follow function’. A very ugly construction was intended to provide joy for people.”

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 16 mm, f/8, 181, ISO 50
Mothballed pipeline, estuary of the Thames River, near Southend-on-Sea
High-res photo on Flickr

Modern industrial architecture has also shaped South-East England, as can be seen from this picture of a pipeline in the Thames estuary. It was built at the beginning of the 1960s for unloading large ships, but never taken into operation. Today the area is a nature reserve. “With its odd aesthetics, it’s a dream motif for any photographer.”

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 16 mm, f/11, 60, ISO 50
Primary school, Southend-on-Sea
High-res photo on Flickr

Like the industrial ruin in the previous image, this picture of a primary school in Southend-on-Sea also typifies Mark Coe’s approach to photography — namely, an interest not in architectural “aesthetics” but in a motif’s visual effect and the emotional connection conjured up by an image. “This motif fascinated me because it doesn’t match the kind of school I went to. The building reminds me more of a prison. The narrow windows create the impression of wanting to keep people inside the building.”

The building below, a student dormitory, has triggered a controversial debate in Southend-on-Sea, a town with a lot of Victorian architecture. “Of course there are proponents of modern architecture in the town who vehemently defend the building. But while I was taking this picture, I was asked several times why I would want to photograph something so ‘ugly’”. For Mark Coe, such a reaction is decisive: Architectural photography is not just about isolated, aesthetic objects. It is also always embedded in its historic and social context.

Sony A77V, Vario-Sonnar T* DT 3,5-4,5/16-80 ZA, 24 mm, f/9,5, 181, ISO 100
Student dormitory, Southend-on-Sea
High-res photo on Flickr

About Mark Coe

Mark Coe calls himself a “full-time father“. He lives on the South-East coast of England in Southend-on-Sea. Before he devoted his time completely to his two children (and to taking pictures with ZEISS), he worked for 10 years as a software trainer.

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