The Harrowing: A Photographic Collection
By: Björn Lambrenos
St Andrews’ Cathedral was once the largest architectural structure in Scotland for 600 years – today, we see it as a ruin left by the iconoclasm of the 16th century reformation. As such, the observer can only try and attempt to create, but never succeed in creating, any sort of resemblance of what the Cathedral might have looked like. Where the space was once complete, it now lies incomplete, and as a result evokes curiosity and simultaneous insecurity. What did this space actually look like in the 12th century? This question will always be unanswered.
So there there is a psychological anxiety as to how we can create an image of this medieval monument. Simultaneously, this sense of uneasiness is paired with a sense of awe. We know that this was the largest architectural structure in Scotland for 600 years. That is a fact. We can see what is left: the ominous nave wall, the gables to the east and west and part of the south transept. They sit there, looming over everything, especially the observer, who is insignificant both physically and conceptually. The only things that are around the observer’s eye level are the numerous grave stones, a memento mori that reminds us not only of human death, but also that of architectural death; this is a space full of remains, structural and bodily alike.
Removing colour means that all emphasis is placed on the on the structural form and texture of the space, providing a more haunting atmosphere to view the subject in. Pairing this with a compositional emphasis on lineation and verticality, found in the laying of the bricks in upward lines and the strips of stone that run along the floor, means that one finds direct contrasts everywhere; the detail of the cracked arches versus the indistinct softness of the sky, and the height of the gables versus the emptiness surrounding it, for example.
I hope this collection presents intriguing, though perhaps more pessimistic ways in which we can view the Cathedral as more than just a positively impressive structure, historically and visually. It has the potential to evoke insecurity through the surrounding decay and incompleteness, and frustration at our failing attempts to paint the past. Yet this is an incompleteness which creates awe. Awe at its height, its setting and its importance as a monumental religious building for a whole society of people, now buried beneath our feet.