Architecture with religious purposes has quite different functions from residential or commercial. While the latter is mainly functional and economic, the former intends to be grandiose. It’s very much part of its design to make humans feel small, minute and God, or whoever the deity is, appear grand, larger than life, larger than oneself. Think of all cathedrals and other religious buildings all around the globe that are much grander than they need to be to fulfill their functions — Notre Dame, La Sagrada Familia, St Peter’s at the Vatican, St. Paul’s in London.
St. Paul’s was constructed 324 years ago. It’s remarkable to think that any building would stand the test of time for this long — two world wars, natural disasters, etc. The initial cost of the cathedral was covered by an extra tax on coal, therefore it was paid for by the public - it belongs to the people. It’s in the middle of the City of London, the square mile that is nowadays a buzzing global financial hub. It stands out from the buildings around it, its dome being a magnificent wonder of architecture and physics — modern-day scientists and architects still struggle to comprehend how it was constructed.
Stephen Leslie, a Londoner who has perhaps become too used to St. Paul’s being always around, decided to document its presence and how we, Londoners, often take it for granted as it’s hard to escape. Leslie presents the remarkable cathedral as a site for weddings and protests, inspiration for artists painting it across the bridge, dog walkers, joggers, casual passers-by. It’s also one of the most recognisable symbols of London across the globe — it’s impossible to escape seeing it as a key ring, a fridge magnet, or an inflatable balloon figurine.
Leslie’s images, all shot on analogue film, also express his frustration at how St. Paul’s, once the tallest and most significant building around, is now among a very crowded building site, overshadowed by skyscrapers and offices. It’s part of a forever changing, always evolving landscape that pays little regard to heritage and culture — profit and convenience have taken precedence. Nevertheless, St. Paul’s is still a major tourist attraction, but also a landmark cherished by the locals and hopefully this will continue for eternity — the glass and steel skyscrapers around it perhaps help a little bit to put things in perspective and exaggerate the contrast between the two types of architecture as the overwhelming opinion of the locals is that the buildings of yore are far superior.
— foreword by Zak R. Dimitrov
“The Central Spot Of All The World” was how the American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne described St Paul's Cathedral when he visited London in 1863.
Obviously things have changed considerably since then but St Paul's still retains an undeniable magnetism for any tourist or, indeed, for native Londoners like myself. A few years ago I decided to do a sustained project on St Paul's. Why? Well, I liked the perversity of attempting something different with the one of the most photographed buildings on the planet plus I truly despair at how StPauls finds itself eclipsed and overshadowed from almost all sides by huge new constructions. These photographs (all shot on film) show how StPaul's still looms over part of London and how it interacts with and affects passers-by.