Open House Hobart 2021 Day 2: Anglesea Barracks
Our final tour of the Open House Hobart 2021 weekend was the Anglesea Barracks tour that we didn’t get to do last year because it rained. Last year we spent the entire tour in the military museum, which included a tour of the site via a model that had been constructed in the 1940s.
By the time we arrived, it was starting to look like this might happen again, with a light rainfall, but thankfully our guides decided to press on, with one group starting in the museum and the other walking round the barracks. We were in the second group so we got to walk around.
The site was chosen by Governor Lachlan Macquarie in 1811, with the first buildings on the site dating back to 1814.
The Army Museum tells us
Fraternisation between soldiers and convicts was understandable as many shared a common class background and also fought together in military campaigns throughout the Empire. With the establishment of the barracks, contact with the convict population was restricted and the feared threat of moral contamination and behaviour was minimised.
The site on top of Barrack Hill, the name Macquarie gave the site, gave clear and strategic views of the river, the settlement and the new Signal Station at Mount Nelson. Its influence over the town was more than military. The barracks became the social hub of the settlement and it was commonly said that ‘the best view in town could be had from the Officers Mess’ (now the Sergeants’ Mess).
The first building we looked at was the Guard House (1840), which is on your right as you enter the barracks. Merv, our guide pointed out the Spanish influence in the arches of this building.
The Soldiers Barracks (1847-48)
Designed by James Conway Victor (royal engineer). The third major barracks on the site the building was originally named “Anglesey Barracks” after the Earl of Anglesey. Later the name with its current spelling came into common usage for the whole precinct. In 1901 this building was extended to complete its original design necessitating the demolition of the first barracks building, the “Old Soldiers’ Barracks”. The original Soldiers Barracks, built in 1814, is thought to have been designed by Elizabeth Macquarie.
The Field Officers’ Quarters 1814 (now used as the Navy HQ).
Designed by Lt John Watts, aid to Governor Macquarie, or possibly Mrs Elizabeth Macquarie. This is the oldest remaining building at Anglesea Barracks. It provided separate apartments for a field officer and four captains , with their wives, families and servants. It included private kitchens, toilets, kitchen gardens and harness rooms at the rear (now demolished.
We also saw the parade ground, and the area set aside for memorials and tributes to people who died while on military service. Further round, opposite the Navy HQ is a row of buildings from 1827-1842.
The Subalterns/Officers Quarters (1827 – 1842)
The Northern terrace was designed by David Lambe. The Southern and infill terraces were designed by John Lee Archer. This building was constructed in three stages over fifteen years and completed the enclosure of the Parade Ground. The first stage, the lowest of the three terraces, provided a Captain’s quarters and the Officers’ Mess – the social centre of Hobart Town. The later two stages provided accommodation for junior officers. Behind the terrace were kitchens servants’ quarters and a privy. These were demolished many years ago.
After exploring this part of the barracks, we met up with the group from the museum and they started splitting us up into three groups for the second part of the tour. Lil Sis and I were exhausted by this point, and having gone through the museum in fine detail last year, decided to skip this part of the tour, so we thanked Merv and departed.
It was another fabulous weekend, and we thank everyone from Open House Hobart for organising this event and the volunteers who ran things so smoothly at all of the venues. We especially thank the home and building owners who allowed us in to see these places, take photos and ask questions. We’re looking forward to seeing more in 2022.
Open House Hobart 2021, Day 2: Esmond Dorney’s 1958 Butterfly House
Butterfly House (originally known as Young House) at 536 Churchill Avenue is featured in Miranda Morris’ 100 Hobart Houses, which says “Although the 1950s brought a radical change to Hobart’s domestic architecture, nothing prepared the city for the arrival of the sputnik house.”
Yes, apparently it was originally called the Sputnik House, after the Russian satellite.
In the book, Miranda says that it was built for a Mrs Young, with Esmond noting that “All the warmth and sunshine, the flowers, the trees, the gardens should be as much part of the home as the kitchen and the living room”, in direct contrast to most traditional houses that he saw as cold and dreary, with the beauty shut out. (I can confirm that my house, built in the same era, which I love, is exactly like this.)
According to the Open House website, this house has featured in design shows, dramas (The Gloaming comes to mind but I could be wrong because I haven’t seen it) and magazines but this was the first time it was open through this program.
Open House goes on to say
Widely admired for its innovative and authentic contribution to international design, the building’s powerful arching form is equally a response to its site and panoramic views. The walls are predominantly glass, lightly framed in tubular steel with integral diagonal bracing in plane with the glazing. Interior living spaces offer arresting views of mountain, sky and river, yet remain surprisingly private from the street thanks to the wide deck that extends over the carport and workshop below.
Originally built for a single woman, Young House was a relatively compact two-bedroom residence when purchased by its current owners. They commissioned Morris-Nunn and Associates to design an extension in 1999. Taking the form of a new pavillion in the back yard, the project won the RAIA Tasmanian Chapter Heritage award in 2001. The firm (now Circa Morris-Nunn Chua) added an extra bedroom and a lap-pool to the design in 2008.
Carefully restored and fitted out with an eye to mid-century modern style, Young House, like the Tate House in Taroona, showcases Esmond Dorney’s exceptional capacity to create buildings that expand and enhance the lives lived within them.Open House Hobart 2021
I’m not sure what else I can say. It’s a beautiful house and I can see why it is so widely admired. We were fortunate enough to have Paddy Dorney on the tour to talk about Esmond’s vision and Robert Morris-Nunn to explain more about the extensions.
One thing I learned was that Esmond had used Caneite in the original house. This is a form of soft, pliable fibreboard made from sugar cane, so it was really suited to the curves of this house. If you look closely at the walls and ceiling panels, you can see the texture of the caneite.
They didn’t use this in the extension.
The other thing Robert noted was the way they had continued the form of the original structure as they’d extended out the back. It’s hard to see this from the ground, but it’s a lot more obvious from further back (see the third row of photos on Robert’s website to get an idea).
What I loved about seeing this place and Tate House on the same weekend was how the additions to the original buildings had been done in very different manners but still retained the original feel of Esmond’s designs.
I also loved being able to see Esmond’s own home at Fort Nelson (1978) from the deck of this house.
I mentioned this to Paddy and he said yes, it was like little brother keeping an eye on big brother.
It was a wonderful space to spend some time and we greatly appreciate the generosity of the owners for opening up their home for us to see.
Open House Hobart day 2.
Our first stop was the Wrest Point Casino, which is a site than contains far more than the 74-metre (or 73 metres or 75 metres?) tower building that is, I believe, still Hobart’s tallest building.
Our tour guide was Graeme Tonks, who has written a book on the history of Wrest Point, which I’ve referred to to make sure I’ve got my facts correct in this post. He said that the tour was going to focus only on the architecture of the site, not any of the social and ethical issues that might come up around the casino, which I think was good to set out up front. The time for that discussion was not now.
Prior to the British arrival, the point was a camping ground for the muwinina people, who lived in the area we now call Hobart, but who did not survive British colonisation.
We started the tour near the front gates on Sandy Bay Road, where Graeme gave us a brief history of the site. In 1808 the site was granted to former Norfolk Island convict Thomas Chaffey, as part of a 62-acre parcel of land that extended up to the Mt Nelson track. He built a house on the promontory, which he named Chaffey’s Point.
Graeme mentioned that Chaffey’s Point became the place where people who had been executed were strung up. In part, this acted as a warning for people on any approaching boats of what would happen to them if they broke the law. The hanging place was moved from Hunter Island in Sullivans Cove because the locals found the smell and sight of decaying bodies around the wharf area offensive. I can’t imagine Mr Chaffey and his family would have particularly enjoyed the sight and smell from their home either. At around the same time, the authorities established a whaling station next to the point, so it must have been a barrel of olfactory unpleasantness for the people who lived there.
Thomas’ son, William Chaffey, built the Travellers Rest Inn on Sandy Bay Road in 1836. It’s still there but no longer used as a hotel. It houses the computers that run the gaming facilities in the casino. After his father’s death, William Chaffey sold part of the site, including the promontory, to David Dunkley, who built his own home, St Helena, there. Graeme said that Dunkley was also responsible for the Duke of Wellington Hotel on Macquarie Street, which explains the name “Dunkley” appearing on the side of the building. I’ve often wondered about that.
George Robertson acquired the property in 1898 and rebuilt St Helena. In 1928, Mrs Ina Lucas, who was originally from NSW and had lived in Cressy, deciding to move to Hobart with her alcoholic husband to try and keep him away from the booze (not entirely sure that was ever going to be successful), bought the property and built a new home called Wrest Point. This home was designed by the architect Lauriston Crisp, whose own home ‘Iluka’ (1926) is not very far away on Sandy Bay Road.
The gateposts were from Mrs Lucas’ time, and they are original, with the northern one having been moved further north later on to accommodate a larger gate.
After some digging around, Graeme discovered that the sandstone for these posts had come from Cressy. The clue to this, apart from it being where Mrs Lucas had lived, was that the sandstone hasn’t deteriorated in the way that much of the sandstone sourced from the south of Tasmania has done. Apparently northern sandstone can withstand the salt air better.
Mr Lucas died in 1929, and Mrs Lucas moved to England with their two sons in 1934. She sold the property to Arthur Drysdale in 1936. Drysdale was one of Tasmania’s most successful businessmen, who after running a string of farms, meatworks and butcher shops, would go on to run the Tasmanian lotteries.
Moving into hospitality, Drysdale had the Wrest Point Riviera Hotel built on the site in 1939. It was designed by the team of David Hartley Wilson and Colin Philp, who are responsible for several rather lovely art deco/moderne streamline buildings around Hobart. (Including, I was surprised to learn, the Shamrock Hotel on the corner of Liverpool and Harrington Streets.)
What’s most interesting about this is that, rather than demolish the Lucas house, because it was only new, they built the hotel around the house, so there are elements of Mrs Lucas’s Wrest Point residence within the hotel itself. This includes some external windows (on the right of the above photo), the ladies’ powder room and rest room, and the study, which is untouched (and currently used for storage).
This has to be the best thing I heard all weekend!
Graeme showed us a plan of the house overlaid with the hotel so we could see how it had been done, as well as an early photo of the hotel. From the river, it would have looked absolutely stunning.
He also said there were seahorses on the entrance, which have long since disappeared. I wasn’t sure if these are original from 1939, but I found this photo on the Tasmanian Archives website and I thought they looked a bit too kitschy for 1939. According to Graeme’s book, however, they were part of the original design, in keeping with Drysdale’s P&O design for the hotel, which was intended to capture “the feel of an imposing luxury liner berthed off the sparkling waters of the Derwent River”. A grand building, lavishly fitted out, it provided a standard of hospitality and entertainment previously unknown in Tasmania.
Graeme took us through the old hotel and pointed out where modifications had been made over the years. For instance, the reception area, which had been in the main entry hall, is now within the ground floor of the tower building, and some of the older accommodation is now used as offices. A lot of the older rooms had shared bathrooms so couldn’t be used for accommodation any more.
There’s also a couple of public phone booths built into one of the walls, where guests could take calls.
We went into the Derwent Room, which used to have space where a full band would play, and a dance floor. This made the hotel a massively popular entertainment venue for the Hobart community and was the place to go for American servicemen posted here during World War Two.
As we walked into the tower building from the Riviera, Graeme showed us a photo of the architect’s model, which, sadly, no longer exists.
The tower was designed by Sir Roy Grounds and completed in 1973, but not without its share of controversy. The issue of a gambling licence to the Federal Group, which bought the hotel in the 1950s, was the subject of much community concern and it ended up going to a state referendum. From what I can find out, Federal Group proposed that a casino would be a great way to attract more tourists to Tasmania, as there were no legal casinos anywhere else in the country. The “yes” vote narrowly won and the casino became a reality in 1973.
Graeme pointed out the lift from the ground floor to the first level, which was installed so the Queen didn’t have to walk up the stairs. It’s exquisitely fitted out in blackwood, and is the slowest lift in the history of the world. (So I’m told. I was too impatient to wait for it and find this out.)
Our last stop was the Birdcage Bar, a cocktail bar that was installed a couple of years after the building had been completed. It’s best known for its frescos, painted by the surrealist artist Charles Billich. Most of the women are real people and many of them were dancers from the cabaret show. One of the women had a zebra stripe cape, and Graeme said that this, along with several other boxes of show paraphernalia was discovered in the attic of a Sandy Bay house by new owners, after several previous owners hadn’t even noticed them. This stuff is all now back with Wrest Point.
Graeme told the story of one of the women, Honey Hogan, who later married former Premier Jim Bacon. Honey had been one of the original croupiers at the casino. Graeme said that because the casino was so new, they couldn’t use “experience” as a criterion for hiring croupiers because there was no one in Tasmania or even Australia who would have qualified, so other factors came into play, none of which, I imagine, would get through anti-discrimination legislation now!
One of the other painted women isn’t real, and her backside lines up with the head of the person who might happen to be playing the piano. Graeme explained that this was because of a disagreement between Billich and one of the pianists, and this picture was his response.
Over time, these images were deemed to be dated, and there were plans to paint over them, but what ended up happening was false walls were built over them and they were forgotten. It was only much later that someone remembered they were still there, and they were able to remove the flat walls and invite Billich back to restore his work.
The tour was fascinating and went for much longer than the allocated 50 minutes. Graeme said he was planning a return tour early in 2022 for anyone who was interested (me me me!) that would be longer and would cover a lot of the spaces we didn’t get to see today, like the spiral staircase leading to the high rollers’ room, and its amazing mural.
The casino is currently being redeveloped for its 50th anniversary, and this includes moving the original casino room to a space with windows. This is apparently unheard of for casinos: gaming rooms traditionally don’t have windows. Or clocks.
At the date of posting this, I’d just been on the longer tour with Graeme, so stay tuned for a follow up post of some of the other features (and lots of photos) of this property , which, love it or hate it, has played a massive part in Tasmania’s social and economic history. Thanks to Open House for organising the tour, to Wrest Point for making it possible, and to Graeme for taking the time to share his knowledge and insights of this Tasmanian icon.
Additional information and clarification of dates came from Our Tasmania: Sandy Bay, from Graeme Tonks & Mark Dibben’s book Wrest Point: The Life, The Times and the People of Tasmania’s Hotel, and from the follow-up tour of Wrest Point with Graeme in February 2022.
Continuing our Open House Hobart weekend quest to visit Esmond Dorney designs, Lil Sis and I stopped in at Kaljuvee House in Lenah Valley.
This is one in a series of “missing” Dorneys, apparently discovered derelict by the current owners and no one had known it was there.
This house was built in 1952 so it’s one of his earlier works in Tasmania. It’s a beautiful space and very much original. The owner, Kate, said the only significant modification they had done was to extend the kitchen a little to be able to fit a dishwasher and more than one person.
It’s distinctly a Dorney but has some features I’ve not seen on other houses, such as the slats over the front windows, which Kate says serve no purpose at all, and this curved ladder-like structure near the entry door, which she says makes it easy to get onto the roof and remove leaves from the gutter.
The Open House website says
This building may be one of Hobart’s great secrets: the house is perched above a quarry face far below the street level and is invisible from any public space. As dramatic proof of the legitimacy of this urban myth, it was discovered in poor condition by the current owners, as no one knew it was there! Now beautifully restored, this is its first public outing.
Approached by a stairway that winds from the street high above, two pavilions – one private and one social – are defined by a partial level change and a butterfly of two opposing skillion rooves. An expressed skeletal structure wraps the portico entrance and shades the fully glazed northern wall which opens to a stunning panorama of the River Derwent and the hills of the Midlands. The open living space (masked by a wall planter Scarpa would be proud of) soars over the garden and into the landscape.
It has a beautiful outlook and a lovely garden. I think I could live here but Kate says she’s not moving out any time soon.
Open House Hobart weekend was held on 13-14 November, with a fascinating range of buildings open for tours and drop-ins.
After our Taroona Esmond Dorney buildings, we were supposed to take part in the Modern Hobart City walking tour, which I was super excited about, but unforeseen circumstances meant it had been cancelled earlier in the week, so we had some free time before our next Dorney house. We decided to wander along Macquarie Street and see what we could find
The National Mutual Life Building at 119 Macquarie Street was open, we think for the first time
Open House tells us this about it.
This six-storey neo-Gothic sandstone building in the centre of Hobart has been a prominent part of the Hobart city landscape since its construction in 1906. The National Mutual Life Association (founded in Melbourne in 1869) commissioned prominent Hobart-born architect, Alan Cameron Walker, to design their Hobart offices. Walker was born in 1865 and apprenticed under the well-known Tasmanian architect, Henry Hunter. The stone facade and carved bas-reliefs of the building are of particular note, and feature a lion and unicorn flanking the company logo above the entrance on Macquarie Street. The building now houses a number of commercial tenancies, with the third and fourth floors being occupied as a residence.
I’ve always been intrigued by this building, especially the turret on the roof, and it sits nicely next to one of my favourite buildings, the Reserve Bank.
It was raining when we got to the roof top and my first impression was of the brilliant view it had of the two beautiful modernist buildings on the corner of Murray and Collins Street, Jaffa and the T&G Building. Who cares about the rain here?
I was so excited by the view I almost forgot about the turret (I don’t know if that’s the actual term, I’m sure it’s not).
It also sits nicely against the Reserve Bank so you can reach out and touch it.
Should you wish to do so.
There was once a rooftop cafe up here, complete with deck chairs, which looks like it would have been a fabulous use of the space. We need more rooftop cafes!
The top floor of the building had recently been vacated and was empty, ready for refurbishment.
It was such a wonderful space and very hard not to notice all the lead lighting throughout, which is thought to have been an 1970s addition.
I wasn’t the only person expressing a wish to live here.
On the other side of the Reserve Bank were two apartments at 105 Macquarie Street, “Polly” and “Henry”, which are recent transformations of former office spaces into short stay accommodation.
They were both very different in look and feel, and Polly had super views of the other side of the Reserve Bank.
These spaces were designed by Preston Lane, who had done the Tate House restoration, and one of the things we noticed was how a huge artwork had been incorporated into one of Polly’s walls. Apparently this had inspired Erik at Tate House to do the same thing in his bedroom in Taroona. It looked really cool. And I wasn’t able to get any photos of it, but this post will give you the idea.
We didn’t get much time here as we had an appointment with another Dorney house further out of the city. Onward!
Open House Hobart weekend was held on 13-14 November, with a fascinating range of buildings open for tours and drop-ins.
After our visit to the Esmond Dorney-designed Tate House in Taroona, Lil Sis and I called in to St Pius X Catholic Church, also designed by Dorney, consecrated in 1957.
According to the flyer they handed us when we arrived, the first Mass held in Taroona was at the old public hall in 1949. Before that, residents had to travel to Mass outside the area, which was difficult as not many owned cars and petrol was still rationed.
The parish community made plans to build a church in 1949. They obtained the site from the Trustees of Sisters of Charity in 1955 and set out to raise funds. Eventually they obtained a £4000 loan, managed to raise another £1000, and looked for an architect who would taken the project. Esmond Dorney was the only one prepared to consider it.
It has features that you might associate with Dorney, most notably the curved tubular steel framing. There’s a lot of varnished plywood panels and glass. You might notice that the windows on the bush-facing side are wide and clear to allow in the views of the bush, and on the other side it’s the wood panels that are wider and the frosted glass panels are narrower. It’s an interesting twist on an otherwise symmetrical design.
In the brochure, Parish Priest Father Nichols says, “It could be argued that it doesn’t have the traditional appearance of a church building, however its shape and form provide a very fine “skin” for the assembled church to carry out its worship”.
Fittingly, in 2017 the Australian Institute of Architects awarded its award for Enduring Architecture to Esmond Dorney for his design of this church. It’s listed in the Register of the National Estate and is considered to be the first modernist church in Australia.
I’ve walked past it many times and tried to photograph it from the outside with limited success (the photo at the top!) but this is the first time I’d been inside. It’s certainly a stunning venue and I think our community is very lucky to have it.
I had been anticipating the 2021 Open House Hobart weekend for weeks. As usual, my sister and I had booked in for several tours across Saturday and Sunday, and we had a lot to look forward to.
Our first tour on Saturday was Tate House in Taroona, which was built in 1958, designed by Esmond Dorney for the current owner, Erik’s, uncle, who lived there for many years.
The Open House description of the house says
Tate House sits above the river’s edge with 180 degree views of the estuary, along with the hills and bays of the far shore. The immediate foreground, originally beach and boat sheds, is now slightly masked by later development. The house is a continuation of the form and structural technology of the Dorney Shack (1957) and the Young (Butterfly) House of 1958. With immediate street frontage, this design needed to find a different solution from those two projects to ensure privacy in a developing suburban context. Allied to some solid panels, a slightly deeper setback allows the garden to mask the glazing. The form itself responds directly to the hills on the eastern horizon, offering a relaxed logic to the street view.
In 2019, the current owners commissioned Preston Lane Architects to carefully restore the existing house and update the interiors, maintaining the essence of the original building while also accommodating the changing needs of the clients, allowing them to age in place.
Paddy Dorney spoke of how much planning went into the restoration project and of the passion of Erik, the architects, and the builders, who all worked to maintain the integrity of Esmond’s design while updating it to reflect the occupants’ needs. He noted the care and attention that James, the builder, who was also there for the tour, had put into the project.
The downstairs section wasn’t part of Esmond’s original design and it was deliberately designed to not look like his work.
Part of the redesign was to include an internal staircase, so that people didn’t have to go outside to get upstairs. It’s a beautiful addition, sympathetic to the design but not trying to replicate it.
I walk past this house often and never knew the downstairs area was there because you can’t see it from the street. I’d thought the house looked so small and wondered how it was possible to live in it.
Learning about the flow-on design from the shack and the way downstairs was incorporated later, it all made sense.
I’d also been watching the renovations from the outside and, even though my first impression when seeing the house stripped back was to be horrified, I couldn’t imagine that anyone would do anything to a Dorney house that hadn’t been well considered and in keeping with its origins.
It’s beautiful work and the house looks wonderful. It’s a simple but very clever design with lovely attention to detail. It seems to just fit the space perfectly as well as take advantage of the wonderful river views.
When I got the idea for the 50 in 50 project, I thought it would be interesting to challenge myself to take a photo every day with the same lens, and to restrict myself to using only that lens for a whole month to see what new perspectives I could get by limiting my choices. I had initially thought I’d use my 24mm prime lens because, well, because I love it and I could see myself using just that lens forever and never using anything else.
But loving that lens so much, I didn’t think that it would be a huge challenge to not use it. The 50mm, on the other hand, well, that was something different. I wasn’t exactly sure why I’d bought it and I’d rarely used it. I think I’d heard it was a good lens for portraits but, as portraits aren’t a genre I’m very interested in at all, I’m not sure what I thought getting a portrait lens would achieve.
Nonetheless, I had it and it was sitting there in my lens bag unused. Everytime I went to use it, everything would be SO CLOSE and I’d hastily swap it for my 10-22 where I was a lot more comfortable.
I’d set myself the goal of completing a 30-day project with one lens in 2020 as part of my 20 in 2020 list that I write about on my other blog. I realised at the end of October that time was running out if I wanted to get this done. I was on a short break in the middle of a very frantic time at work when I decided, in that way you make crazy decisions when you’re relaxed and on holidays, that I was going to start the project the very next day with the 50mm lens and it was going to be a 50-day project, not a 30-day one. Because 50/50/50 was just so much tidier than 30/50/30.
The challenge was set and the rules were made. I locked all my other lenses away in my camera bag and began. The main rule was that I needed to make at least one photo every day and post it. I didn’t actually have to edit or post it the day I took the photo, as long as I’d actually captured a photo every day. I was a little bit flexible with the challenge and I did allow myself to continue to use my phone for thing I’d normally have used my phone for anyway like casual daily photos and Hobart Street Corners.
So what did I learn?
Not allowing myself to crop the images, other than what was needed to straighten them, meant that I had to be a lot more careful in my framing in-camera. In some photos that were very tight, I found it difficult to make the adjustments I needed to compensate for the viewfinder showing me a slightly different view than what appeared in the image. More than once, an image that I thought I’d framed perfectly ended up with something I thought I had excluded sneaking in on the right hand side, or the image wasn’t framed exactly the way I had thought it was.
It was also difficult to step back as far as I needed to get what I wanted into the frame, so in a lot of photos I ended up getting closer and including less in the image than I had intended. This is why there are a lot of photos from the challenge of the tops of buildings or details, because the 50mm perspective just didn’t allow everything to be included. There are limits to how far you can step back sometimes, because there are things like brick walls or roads with heavy traffic that stop you. Getting run over in the pursuit of my art is not really the way I want to end my life!
Doing this challenge forced me to look at things in a different way to how I would have if I was using the 10-22 lens and trying to get everything in. It helped me to isolate details that I found interesting and to really think about what was interesting about a scene. It often felt like it was a lot more of a personal way to make photos, to find the element that spoke to me within what was usually quite a cluttered space, and to focus on that and to show it from my perspective.
I’d go out with one idea in mind and then, after being in the space for a while and taking the photos I thought I’d wanted, I’d look around some more and see something completely different. I’d then go and explore the things that had caught my eye and end up with a totally different image to what I’d imagined. Light playing on a surface, a creeping shadow, a small feature that I’d never have noticed if I’d been looking at the big picture. Something on the ground. Something sitting on a fence. I’d capture these things as I saw them, and I’m glad I did because, more often than not, I’d come back the next day and they’d be gone.
Of course, not everything worked out as I’d wanted it to, and some days I ended up just taking a photo of something, anything, just to complete the challenge for that day. These were not some of my best moments.
I found I really enjoyed getting up close to a feature and making it the focal point of the image, with a very shallow depth of field to blur the background.
Some of these types of photos worked well; others not so much. I had a couple of days where I’d get a photo I really liked only to find I hadn’t quite nailed the focus, whereas similar shots with less pleasing composition were tack sharp. What to do there?! My choice was to go with composition over sharpness and to remind myself it’s okay to take more than one photo of exactly the same thing if I think it’s going to be a good one. Maybe one day I’ll remember this.
16 December was the last day of the challenge and I’d already picked out my subject a couple of days earlier on my morning walk, when there was great light. I’d taken a few test shots and thought I could make it work on the last day. All I needed was the same light and the same lack of traffic on the highway. Sadly, the light didn’t come and I woke up feeling very unwell. Not unwell enough to not go for a walk but not exactly raring to go either. So I didn’t get the photo I wanted to round the project off. I took a couple of photos while I was out but nothing really worked and all I wanted to do was go back to bed. Which I did.
It was a disappointing end to what had been a fantastic project that, for the most part, I enjoyed doing. Overall, I’m pleased with the photos I made for the project, and there are a couple that are up there with my favourite images of the year.
I’m not in any great rush to stop using the lens and, now I know some of its possibilities, I’m keen to use it more often.
It’s been a great experience for me. I would say if you feel like your photography is getting stuck or same-y or you want to mix it up a bit, set yourself a challenge like this where you restrict yourself to one element. Go out for a couple of weeks, a month, however long feels right to you, and make photographs every day within that restriction. Maybe you could restrict the lens, or the aperture you use (or even both!). You could restrict yourself to making a photo at a particular time of day or within a particular location. One challenge I have always been interested in is the “one block” challenge, where you can only make photographs of things that are within one block of your town for whatever period you choose. Maybe a back and white challenge is more your thing (I did that for a year in 2018), or you photograph only yellow things every day for a month. Or birds. Or cups of coffee. Or sandstone (nah, just kidding, don’t do that). Anything where you limit your options, I think, will help you to focus on one thing and to get more creative as you can’t get distracted by the many other variables that could distract you.
Now I have to plan myself a new challenge for 2021.
Have you thought about undertaking a photo challenge like this? Or done one? Let me know in the comments.