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Still time to see our Cathedral's Nativity

by Michael Ford last modified 08 Jan, 2020 11:04 AM

There is still time to see Salisbury Cathedral's magnificent new Nativity that features members of staff and volunteers in a Renaissance-style photographic tableau.

Crowds have already flocked to the Cathedral to see the image, which has been printed onto enormous voile panels around 10ft (3m) wide by over 35ft (10.5m) long, which hang from Triforium level nearly 50ft (14m) above the ground, at the heart of the Cathedral in the Spire Crossing. The size and delicacy of the panels is such that a specialist company in Belgium was commissioned to create them.

Creative director and curator Jacquiline Creswell and photographer Ash Mills worked behind the scenes in the Cathedral to create the Nativity, using the Morning Chapel as their stage. The entire picture remained a closely guarded secret until just before Christmas. It was built out of a series of full length individual or group portraits shot by Ash Mills, and ‘painted’ into the glorious images.

Creative director and curator Jacquiline Creswell said:

“Faced with the challenge of capturing the history of the occasion and the spirit of the season, we did extensive research into the historical tradition of the Nativity and ways in which it has been portrayed through the ages. We wanted to present the scene in a fresh light, whilst incorporating all the elements of awe and mystery that so capture our imagination and stir our spirits.

“The concept we have developed is a traditional image of the Nativity, using an unconventional medium that will bring the story portrayed to the widest possible audience. The scenes on the voile banners will soar above the Spire Crossing to provide an uplifting image as we raise our eyes to meet it.”

Working alongside Jacquiline, Ash Mills, Salisbury Cathedral’s official photographer had the monumental task of composing, lighting and building this painterly re-imaging of the Nativity story:

“I shot each element of the scene against a black background, using studio flash techniques; with large softboxes and panel reflectors to emulate the modelling famously achieved by artists like George de la Tour and Caravaggio. It was technically challenging keeping track of where the light sources should be, where people’s eye lines should be and ensuring the perspectives were correct when the elements were arranged around the canvas later.

“In the end I couldn’t resist doing a ‘Hitchcock’ and including a self-portrait as shepherd, which I hid in the shadows while I was finalising my settings.”

The cast of characters includes Freddie (Baby Jesus), a Close resident and grandson of the Senior Lay Vicar (adult singer) in the Cathedral Choir and son of former England Rugby player, Simon Halliday, and eight-year-old Arthur (Shepherd Boy), who supplied two lambs from his very own flock for the shoot. Half Pint (an orphaned Poll Dorset) and Bertie (a South Down) are members of Arthur’s twelve-strong Sixpenny flock, which he runs with his grandma Nicky.

If you want to see the Nativity, it will be on show until 2 February 2020.

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