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News: 15 November 2018

In the spotlight

Images of England volunteer photographer, Bob Cottrell, recalls an enjoyable 18 months photographing listed buildings in the North East.

Packing up the car first thing in the morning outside my house in Chester-le-Street.
© English Heritage, photography James Davies

I'm a keen photographer and have been a member of the Gateshead Camera Club since 1960. I heard about the Images of England project through the Royal Photographic Society. I've really enjoyed the first year and a half of photography. I've worked as a construction and cladding engineer for most of my life and retired eight years ago. I used to spend a lot of time travelling all over the country measuring up buildings, now I get to travel all over the North East photographing buildings!

I always look forward to the arrival of my new targets to photograph. The first thing I do is look through what I've been sent to see if they include some of the more famous local buildings. I consider myself very fortunate to have been asked to record over 400 listed sites in Newcastle and over 250 in Durham City as both areas are steeped in history and, of course, this is where my roots are.

Before I take any photographs I use a map to identify where my buildings are, as sometimes they can be quite hard to find. Once you do find the building it's extremely rewarding. Sometimes the weather is just right and the buildings are all easy to photograph. Other days I've walked for miles to find the right building and when I get there the lighting is awful. You then have to make the decision whether to come back or take the picture. Often it's all a question of compromise and of course you have to have patience! The weather so far this year has been better than the whole of last summer.

Lining up a shot of Milburn House in Newcastle with the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in the background.
© English Heritage, photography James Davies

"Once you do find the building, it's extremely rewarding" Bob Cottrell

I was working in central Newcastle earlier this year hunting for a town boundary stone on Westgate Road that had been re-sited in a wall. I asked a passing Traffic Warden if I could park my car near to the wall and explained what I was looking for. When we both looked we found the stone above our heads showing the 3 castles of Newcastle. It had marked the original boundary of the town. The traffic warden was so impressed she let me park my car while I took the photo!

I find I've begun to look at buildings far more closely through being involved in the project, particularly details I've overlooked in the past. I often get stopped in town centres by children - 'What are you photographing Mister?' They're amazed when I point above their heads and get them to look above the shop fronts. I tell them to check the website at school and soon they'll be able to see familiar buildings and read about the history of each one.

Setting up on the hydraulically powered Swing Bridge, built in 1876. The Tyne Bridge and the Gateshead Millennium Bridge can be seen in the background.
© English Heritage, photography James Davies

Newcastle Civic Centre with the council chamber on the left.
© English Heritage, photography James Davies

I use a cassette recorder as I work to record details about each of the buildings I photograph. When I get home at the end of the day I complete all the paperwork and send it off to the project - no tea until I've done my homework.

My wife has been very supportive but she thinks my enthusiasm for the project has rather overtaken everything else - particularly the garden. I think we all need to have a purpose in life, Images of England has proved to be a very rewarding and satisfying pursuit. Understandably my family comes first and is my overriding passion. I don't have a computer at home but as my grandchildren have, they can all see what I've been up to over the last 18 months.

Having a quick break from photography in the 'Pitcher and Piano' on Newcastle Quayside.
© English Heritage, photography James Davies

This article is featured on the 10 Downing Street website,

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