Photographer, alumnus and tutor Jonathan Kirkpatrick uncovers an Oxford of shadows, moonlight and stars.
By Jonathan Kirkpatrick
It’s sunset over Radcliffe Square. Clouds have cleared after ample February rains, but the puddles remain, allowing the camera to catch the Camera in duplicate, above. Somehow the sky repeated in a pool of water has a magical profundity. The only concern, as you lean as low as possible to get the best effect, is the risk of getting some of the puddle in your camera. The rain has left a pleasing sheen on the cobbles, and the leafless winter trees, rising from Exeter College’s lofty Fellows’ Garden, present a delicate filigree effect against the glowing clouds.
Oxford by day provokes me to frenetic snapping, but photography by night demands care and patience. A long exposure helps capture the exiguous patches of light lurking amid the shadows, and the results have an appropriate dreaminess. This is partly because they are so sparsely populated — moving people disappear because of the exposure length.
The Bridge of Sighs guards the entrance to New College Lane, above, and Oxford’s human inhabitants are merely implied — by the illuminated windows; by the smoke streaming into the sky; by the cycle lights wobbling past. Another feature of night photos is that they often show you more than you can see with the naked eye. This photo was taken at full moon in December, but during the exposure the moon moved a little across the sky, so it appears even fuller than in reality. Appropriately the moon is floating just above Edmund Halley’s rooftop observatory.
On another evening, above, a couple, dressed in black and evidently coming from some swish party, paused at the first corner of New College Lane. I released the shutter, with the length of exposure set to ten seconds. To my delight, whatever they were up to, they took their time about it and scarcely moved.
A drier, clearer February night unveils the stars pinpricking the sky over the Sheldonian Theatre, above. Though the Old Bodleian and the Clarendon Building are closed, their windows dark, a concert is going on inside the theatre (I like the way the dusky muses on top of the Clarendon Building are joining in). Inside we glimpse the exuberant ceiling painted by Sir James Thornhill, its fiery cloudscape a counterpoint to the real sky outside, so cool and crystal. The long exposure reveals more stars in the photograph than I was able to see with my eyes. I like to imagine that this was more like the night sky visible to Sir Christopher Wren, before light pollution obscured its glory. Above the Sheldonian is the constellation Taurus, with the Pleiades above the corner of the Clarendon Building to the right; over the corner of the Bodleian, on the other hand, Orion is just emerging, raising aloft his martial arm.
Reflected glories: Jonathan Kirkpatrick captures Oxford as a world turned upside-down following a rainstorm.
To see more of Jonathan Kirkpatrick’s photos, or to contact him about purchasing copies, go to his website.
All images © Jonathan Kirkpatrick, reproduced with kind permission.