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Photographing Barbican Henge

Tuesday 9 May 2017

London-based photographer James Burns is well acquainted with the towers of the Barbican, having just finished a timelapse video of the moon rising over the Barbican Centre at night. With a passion for post-war social housing architecture, James isn’t afraid to go the distance (or in this case, the height), to capture his favourite buildings in dream-like landscapes, often against the warm, orange background of a sunset.

We talk to him about his creative process, and of course, his favourite buildings…

Find out more about James on his website and head to his Instagram to see more of his photos.

'The roots of my interest in the Barbican lie in my passion for the architecture of post-war social housing. The demolition of certain tower blocks that had always caught my eye as a schoolboy made me anxious to capture them before they were gone and I ended up pursuing this project for five years all over London, Britain and Western Europe.'
'As my appreciation and understanding of modernist architecture grew, it was the Brutalist style that excited me the most and the Barbican along with Trellick Tower, are two of my favourite buildings in the world.'
'At the turn of the millennium I was studying a media degree at South Bank University but I was drifting through the course and was generally frustrated in life. Then at some point in the first semester the unit in black and white film photography began and I just exploded with creativity – the camera gave me a whole new lease of life.'
'My imagination is like a 3 dimensional map of London, I’m constantly picturing the view from a different building at a different time of day or year depending on how I hope the light will play from that angle.'
'From a certain location in Hackney, the sun appears to drop between the Barbican Towers on just a few days of the year and whenever the weather allows, I am there in advance with my longest lens to compress the perspective and create the most powerful image that I can.'
'What inspires me about the Barbican? I can only explain it in the context of the music that I grew up with and still love today – drum’n’bass. Drum’n’bass is a rough and rugged form of dance music that emerged from the housing estates and tower blocks of East London in the 90’s and to me it shares much in common with the Barbican and Brutalism in general. Both forms of expression are about the juxtaposition of awe - inspiring power with the serenity of the beautiful spaces between and the more you immerse yourself in either, the more sublime they become.
'My favourite piece of architecture in London is Trellick Tower. It’s just the coolest building ever but I can’t just give one answer as I love this city’s architecture, so here’s my top 10: St Pancras Station, the Barbican, National Theatre, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Leadenhall Building, Battersea Power Station (as was), The Shard, many a Georgian terrace, and the future Spurs Stadium.'

One Comment

Martin Richard Page

Oh, WOW! What a wonderful set of photographs. Took my breath away. I too, love these buildings. I first got a close-up look at them when I got lost trying to find the Barbican Centre Theatre to see Mr. Cumberbatch’s Hamlet, and I wandered around the area for quite some time. I thought that these Brutal buildings were always beautiful, and find it difficult to see how some people seem to dislike them so much. But looking at them the way you (and your camera) have seen them, you’ve (pun most definitely intended) taken them to a whole new level! I like the way they can be seen from many parts of the city and just appear to completely belong there amongst the many different architectural styles. Hey, you may even make me see Drum’n’Bass in a new light, but ……. nah …… I’m an old rocker …… some things you can’t change. Thank you, James. Great work. Great video, too.

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