Focus on atmosphere
Sussex writer Tara Gould talks to Lewes photographer Carlotta Luke about snapping the Queen, Mumford & Sons and derelict buildings.
You must have been thrilled when you got the commission to photograph the Queen in your local town, how did that happen?
I was very lucky to have taken the PR shot for the band Mumford & Sons at Harvey’s Brewery, a famous Lewes landmark.
This was to promote their Gentlemen of the Road Festival visit to Lewes back in July, 2013.
Harvey’s owner, Hamish Elder, was pleased with the shot so when he found out the Queen was planning a visit to his brewery in October 2013, he asked if I could document the royal visit. I was absolutely thrilled and also rather terrified.
Was it weird taking pictures of royalty in a place that makes real ale?
Actually, the whole experience was surreal. I hadn’t realised the level of planning required for a royal visit.
I photographed the preparations the day before but I think they started days, if not weeks, before that. There was washing, cleaning and painting going on at Harvey’s and the secret service men swarmed everywhere.
The brewery sits on the banks of the river that runs through Lewes. Hundreds of kegs of beer were stacked along the edge of the river to form a barrier – an ingenious use for ale.
Seeing the Queen in person was initially strange, I had a feeling that wherever she goes, she is in a sort of bubble, accompanied by her entourage, her chef and her Bentley, entering places that are always sparklingly clean and freshly painted.
What details stood out for you?
The Queen wore a bright pink coat and matching pink and black hat, which stood out wonderfully amongst the grey suits around her.
I was surprised by how small and fragile she seemed, I somehow hadn’t expected that.
However, she managed the old narrow corridors and small winding stairs of the brewery with surprising agility.
I also hadn’t realised how happy her presence made those who met her. So many people told me meeting the Queen that day was one of the best things that had ever happened to them.
This was in sharp contrast to my favourite shot from the day that, for me, personifies how lonely her position of privilege might be.
The Queen is on her own inside the empty brewery outbuilding, appearing isolated and slightly stooped. Her husband and the head brewer are just visible through the glass door behind her.
I had a break while the Queen was at a large formal lunch in a marquee in the brewery yard (I was not allowed to take photos of her eating).
During this time the royal Bentley was left unattended so, of course, I was curious to look inside.
It felt like a little peek into her private life. By her seat there was a book, a blue wool blanket and a small bouquet of flowers.
Your shoot with Mumford & Sons was also in the Harvey’s Brewery – was it a very different experience?
It was very different, although there was a similar buzz around the arrival of famous people.
There is a staged old-fashioned brewery setup where I was to photograph the band. It was hard to direct them for the shot because there was so much going on around us.
I have to admit I also felt a bit nervous about bossing them around, however I did get the shot in the end.
After Harvey’s the four band members and their manager needed to get to the next location. We had to get more photos in Lewes House, a beautiful old building in the centre of town.
I had brought my 16-year-old son with me as my assistant. Since the band didn’t know where they were going, my son and I walked up through the centre of Lewes with them. This felt very surreal.
After the crowds of fans at the brewery, it was just us walking through town – and no one recognised them.
We spent the next couple of hours in Lewes House drinking tea and taking photos. They were really lovely, down to earth guys.
You’ve also been commissioned to document renovations. How do you find beauty in these environments?
I have always had a love of old buildings and have been photographing them since I was a teenager.
My first big commission was an artistic documentation of the restoration of a 450-year-old Elizabethan manor house in Sussex called Glynde Place.
I began the project before the building works started and I fell in love with the spaces, the light and the details of the place. Once the workmen moved in, it became a document of how those spaces and light changed, with the work’s progress and with the seasons.
I looked for quirks in perspective, colours and textures, transparency and opacity, for those small details that are ordinary and extraordinary.
Photographing the workmen became a large part of the project, often allowing me to show the unexpected, dynamic and surprising elements of the site.
What is your most memorable shoot?
Around 25 years ago I photographed the Whitechapel Bell Foundry in East London. A friend had told me about this extraordinary place and thought I might find it interesting to shoot.
It was founded in the 1570s, and both Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were cast there.
I was allowed access to almost everywhere in the foundry, which was surprising considering the dangerous nature of the work. The methods used were ancient, reminiscent of the earliest times of humans working with iron. I saw sand, dung, clay and hair listed on a chalkboard of materials being used. I felt I had stepped back in time.
What are you currently working on?
Recently I have been documenting the renovation of two derelict listed buildings in the port of Newhaven.
A new UTC engineering college is being built on the site, with the intention of breathing new life into the town and offering vocational qualifications to young people.
It’s quite a ground breaking project in the way the district council, one of the partners of this project, has commissioned me to document the progress of the renovations in an ‘artistic’ manner.
This is a deliberate move on the part of the council to keep local people included in the changes and show the developments from a more ‘human-centred’ perspective and not simply a corporate one.
I love this aspect of my job, when the images I take allow two worlds to connect, and allow the community an insight into parts of life they might otherwise be excluded from.
I have also just started on a new project based in Lewes, photographing the renovation of the old Harvey’s Depot near the station as it is developed into a community cinema.
This is an exciting project to involved with. Not only will it be wonderful to have a community-run three screen cinema in the heart of Lewes, but the building has been designed on strong ecological principles and the project is being run with integrity.
Can you tell me a bit about how you came to be in Lewes?
I am originally from Boston and Cape Cod, in Massachusetts. I moved to Lewes about ten years ago with my family.
My husband’s family are from Burgess Hill and he had wonderful memories of visiting Lewes as a child.
I loved Lewes from the first time I came here. I feel a real connection with the town, the community, the architecture and the landscape of the downs.
I feel very lucky to live here and to have my children grow up here.
You live in one of Lewes’s lovely Georgian houses, can you tell me a bit about it?
We have lived in our house for five years now. It is known locally as the Doll’s House because it looks like a quintessential doll’s house, with a central door and a window on either side going up three storeys.
I love it because it has not been messed around with. The layout is simple, the rooms are almost square and the house is symmetrical.
It has hardly changed since it was built over 200 years ago, apart from squeezing in a couple of indoor bathrooms in the 1980s.
The only draw back is the house is really rather small for a family of five.
Although it looks very grand, it is only one room deep and has windows only on the front facing the street.
Another quirk is our back garden is not next to our house, but down a narrow passageway behind several other gardens, probably a reminder of how old this part of Lewes is.
Carlotta Luke is a Lewes based photographer and graphic designer. For more information, visit www.carlottaluke.com
Tara Gould is a Lewes based writer, editor and communications consultant supporting South East businesses, artists and third sector organisations. Her website is www.thegoodcharacter.com
December 29, 2015 Culture and Events