Tuesday 16 March: Abandoned Architecture with James Kerwin

Tues 16 March meeting: Abandoned Architecture – James Kerwin


James, who was zooming in from Georgia in eastern Europe, gave an interesting illustrated talk about his forays into disused and abandoned buildings in the UK and abroad. He worked for seven years for an events company which was extremely busy in summer and quiet in winter which gave him time to explore. He happened upon abandoned architecture after seeing an article on Mail Online about the old dilapidated Severalls Hospital in Colchester, Essex.


This raised his interest and he started searching for similar abandoned buildings: a police station in Cromer, old buildings along the south coast and weekends in Belgium via the Euro Star. He uploaded his best shots on websites such as 500px. Seeing his images a photo agent contacted James telling him that he could sell premier prints but would need a portfolio of 12 to 15 images to make it worthwhile, so James started on a series of photos project. In 2014-15 he began his first series which he called Decadence.


He photographed the Chateau Miranda in Belgium, an overgrown circular domed greenhouse, also in Belgium, the Silverlands orphanage in Chertsey, Surrey, the Buzludzha monument in Bulgaria and other places in Italy, Germany and elsewhere.


James started doing photographic and art courses of various genres, from colour theory to landscape and architecture. At the same time he got a job with a high-end kitchen company taking photos of their plush installations.


His next series, Neglected, was taken between 2015-16 and covered buildings in Poland, Italy, France, Belgium, Hungry and the UK. He started hiring lenses as his kit was quite limited and, to get a shot that satisfied all his needs, he needed to get the shot technically right. The next series he made in 2016-17 was called Domum Dei (House of God) and featured houses of worship from box chapels in Wales to churches in Italy, Portugal, France and Belgium. His followed this with a series he called Scorned. This was a slightly different series as he ventured to new locations such as Portugal and Romania.


James also spoke about the technical aspects of getting the photo just right. He now has a tilt and shift lens which allows him to get the vertical straight and also helps with extending the focus plane, he has an ‘l’ bracket which means he can shift between landscape and portrait without adjusting the tripod, he also uses a geared head for his tripod and does panoramic shots when required and stitches the images in Lightroom and he does do photo stacking at times.


Everything changed in 2018 when he became redundant, and he decided to become a full-time photographer and planned how he would make this pay by coming up with various ways to fund his work. One of these was running photographic tours and he has stationed himself in Georgia. The covid crisis means that his plans have been interrupted but he has organised a trip in the very near future which is fully booked.


He showed his 2018 photo series on Georgia called De Facto and features images from the areas – Abkhazia and the former South Ossetian Autonomous Oblast – Georgia lost control of with its war with Russia in 2008.


James also has photo trips in the Lebanon and is planning to do photo trips in Armenia, the Ukraine, Poland and Georgia. If you’re interested details are here


This was a thoroughly fascinating talk and featured places that are extremely difficult to visit. His photographs were top class.

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Oxford Photographic Society