Part 2 of my Q&A with the creators of “Raynham Hall: An English Country House Revealed”. Photographer Julius Beltrame shares his thoughts, projects, and the process of working in such a beautiful house.
Mandy: What was it like to walk through Raynham Hall and photograph it for the first time?
Julius Beltrame: My first visit with Michael was for a wonderful few days, I felt very lucky to have the chance to photograph Raynham Hall so closely. I’d visited country houses before of course, as a tourist, often during holidays during my History of Art degree, but I’d never been a guest at one, never mind one as unique as Raynham.
Charles & Alison (The Marquess & Marchioness) made us both so welcome, the staff were very accommodating of both our needs. Michael and I were free to roam the house during the day, which is a privilege in any home of course, but Raynham is a very special one, as became apparent during our stay.
I don’t want to overstate this, but Raynham has a very special – magical, even – atmosphere, which after my subsequent visits I’ve come to appreciate more and more, an atmosphere of calm benevolence, of familial warmth and an understated grandeur, which it reveals to the thoughtful observer in it’s own timeless way, like an older friend sharing their fondest memories.
After my visits I’m convinced more than ever that every place has a personality or atmosphere which is unique, though in some the effects are more apparent than others. Time spent at Raynham always feels like time out of the ordinary, from the peaceful mornings as the mists roll back and reveal the trees in the park, to the bustle of life’s calendar on a working estate, the jovial lunches where we’d excitedly share discoveries and observations we’d made in one room or another that morning, to long afternoons upon which sunset would sneak, in time for us to capture a fleeting glimpse of evening light which is beautiful in Norfolk.
M: How did you achieve the balance of presenting a comfortable family home but also convey its importance in history?
JB: That would be my secret weapon: Dr Michael Ridgdill! We were a great team – he knew what he needed to capture to tell the story of the house, but the brief also allowed us the freedom to let my eye frame shots of the home, [anything] that caught our attention. Often they were the same thing, at times, but thanks to the family pets (who stole the show in every photo we managed to snap!) they weren’t. My job was to interfere as little as possible and simply let the house speak for itself, which it does with a friendly eloquence I’ve tried to capture.
As a photographer that challenge was exciting and not a little daunting – to my knowledge nobody has photographed it in such comprehensive detail – yet with every play of the light as the day goes on something new can be seen, and a new aspect is revealed. One really could lose oneself for days, chasing the ever-changing aspects of the house. In fact, it would be a pleasure to do so even after the time I spent on the book!
M: You also work in film. What came first – film or photography? Or was it a natural pairing from the start?
JB: Photography was and is my first love, I photograph almost every day and always have a camera with me. As Jean Luc Godard said, ‘Photography is the truth; Cinema is truth 24 times a second’, and the two quickly became entwined for me as an undergraduate.
You could say I’ve fed these twin flames in a lifelong affair of sorts, with capturing light and telling stories. Picturing the world (unlike some other forms of photography) is a sense or an instinct, which sees in one’s mind’s eye a potential story or picture – and I mean to be as literal as this – were one to put a rectangle around some part of the world before you.
It is a sense or instinct that we all have to some degree, but which photographers develop, love, or become addicted to, perhaps. With these pictures I tried to see what the world at Raynham – created itself by visionaries – offered to the thoughtful eye, rather than manipulating it into something it isn’t.
It’s telling perhaps, of the special atmosphere at Raynham, that on my second visit, an idea germinated to set a feature film there. As I wandered the grounds, halls and rooms, I found myself imagining scenes from a love story, or snippets from a period drama. I don’t want to jinx it, but let’s just say that I visited Raynham only a few weeks ago with a screenwriter friend, and we spent a few days soaking up that magical atmosphere and weaving story lines from those scenes I imagined a few years ago.
There’s always such a long journey in producing a feature film, not just the efforts of imagination to weave a story as beguiling, moving and true as it can be, but then especially securing finance for a project as ambitious as this. I doubt it’s a mystery as to why I keep my twin flames alive: photography is always so gratifyingly immediate by comparison.
M: What is your favorite photo from Raynham? Out of everything you photographed, could you choose just one?
JB: [I]t’s hard to choose I think. The cover and inside leaf are good contenders for their classic pictorial qualities, while some I love for their subject matter (the pets, or that faded rococo chair), others for their purity of composition (the busts in the Marble Hall for example) or the way the light fell just so (the South elevation in the morning light) – I think if I had to pick one image though, it would be the opportune shot I captured of one of the family Jack Russell terriers, sitting poised and alert next to a pair of Wellington boots, on the threshold of a doorway to the park: there’s something of ‘home’ in it that everyone can appreciate, and expresses that special atmosphere at Raynham
M: Are you planning any future photography sessions in grand houses like Raynham?
JB: The book has done very well, and a few enquiries have come my way since the book’s publication, however my commitments to two films I have in post-production have been considerable. Andie Redman (my Interior Stylist) and I would love getting to grips with another project of this scale, very much. Publishing being the business it is, however, means we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. We hope the success of Michael’s book demonstrates the value of our approach, as well as serving as a unique document of a special place during those moments we were lucky enough to be there.
Visit Julius’s website Lucid Dynamics for his full portfolio and projects.