Favourite Locations: Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

Everyone has a style of photography that suits them, or subjects that they love to shoot time after time. For me, I love ruins. Ruins provide a plethora of shapes, textures and a fair bit of play between shadow and light. I’m very fortunate to live not too far from some spectacular Abbey’s, of which Fountains Abbey is my absolute favourite.
I’ve only been to Fountains twice, but now that I find it on my doorstep, I have the luxury of being able to go back more often.
My first visit was back when I was shooting film, and insanely carrying around a full 35mm setup and a Pentax 645 setup. (How my back coped with that I’ll never know.) By this time, I was shooting monochrome as part of a college course and was well on the way to ditching colour film. It was also the first real time shooting medium format and an excuse to try two new films – Fuji Acros 100 and Ilford Delta 100.
Fountains Abbey sits in a large estate with a variety of gardens and structures, yet I never ventured far from the Abbey itself. The stand out feature of Fountains is the Cellarium, a large vaulted chamber that is remarkably complete and awe inspiring. I set up my tripod and spent about half an hour taking shots, changing lenses and taking more shots. It was almost surreal standing there. I chose a side of the Cellarium that had a cross located at the end and it seemed that no one else had noticed it as people were taking photos elsewhere. It gave me an unobstructed view and plenty of time.

The Cellarium Fountains Abbey
The Cellarium at Fountains Abbey

The stand out shot was taken on Fuji Acros with a Pentax 645. It is the only negative I printed to 16 x 20 and kept – it still hangs in the living room, spoiled only by a streak where the fixer has started to turn brown. The detail captured by the negative is staggering; you don’t really get the full impact of that from the scan.
Several years later, we moved closer to Fountains and we took a family trip. This time I was shooting digital and had far less gear to carry around, but again, I was drawn to the Cellarium. No tripod and four kids running around, the atmosphere was totally different, and so was the way I made the shots. ISO 800 with a Nikon 18-105 DX lens and hand held, plus shooting in colour.
I decided to try and get more of the Cellarium into the shot and tried to get the kids in there as well. There was one stand out image and that was the one below. My youngest son was overjoyed to be out of the pushchair and running around. The presence of the toddler and his wandering toward the cross lend the image an atmosphere that is missing from the first image.

The Cellarium Fountains Abbey
A different time and a different view of the Cellarium

That said, neither really captures the full impact of standing there. A third visit is definitely on the cards and an opportunity to try capture the place in yet another way.


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