Wakefield Cathedral Hosts Magnificent Photographic ‘Portraits’ of All 42 English Anglican Cathedrals

01 August 2023

Wakefield Cathedral, UK, home of the tallest spire in Yorkshire, the largest collection of Kempe stained glass in the world, and the first church in England to have fourteen bells, will host the next stage of an ambitious tour of works by the late Magnum photographer, Peter Marlow. The free and exceptional photographic exhibition chronicling all 42 naves of England’s Anglican cathedrals, Peter Marlow: The English Cathedral, will be on show from 2 – 31 August 2023.

Organised by the Peter Marlow Foundation, the charity set up to continue Peter’s legacy, the aim is that this ethereal collection of images will exhibit at each of the 42 cathedrals he visited on his photographic pilgrimage across England. The exhibition will be on display in the Nave Aisle South during normal cathedral opening hours.

The Very Revd Simon Cowling, Dean of Wakefield, says of the exhibition, “‘Cathedrals have been described as ‘flagships of the spirit’, and Peter Marlow’s wonderful exhibition invites us to reflect on how these magnificent buildings speak to us of the spiritual truth of God’s eternity in a world of constant change. It is a privilege for us to host Peter’s photographs: they are testament not only to the remarkable engineering skill and sheer ingenuity of our forebears in the faith, but also to the artistic sensitivity of a photographer who has captured so beautifully the frozen music of our cathedral’s architectural forms. As you engage with the photographs in Wakefield Cathedral, I hope you will be inspired to explore other cathedrals too and engage even more fully with this significant aspect of our national patrimony.”

Peter Marlow (b. UK, 1952 – 2016) was commissioned in 2008 by Royal Mail on the 300th year anniversary of the completion of St Paul’s Cathedral to photograph six Anglican Cathedrals that were issued as commemorative stamps. So taken was he by these initial magnificent interiors that he set out to photograph all 42, guided over the next three years by a copy of English Cathedrals (1989) by Edwin Smith and Olive Cook and a pack of Anglican Cathedrals of England Top Trumps Cards.

“What I thought was going to be incredibly simple became intricate, complicated, and utterly absorbing. The journey was memorable and wonderfully hypnotic, a kind of reflective pilgrimage. My cathedral days involved hours of driving and thinking, with my reference instant photographs drying in the sun on the dashboard. England passed by.”
Peter Marlow, The English Cathedral.

The images appear deceptively simple in their composition and technical set-up. It was after much experimentation that Peter developed the perfect strategy to document these huge interior spaces and to highlight the many varied architectural nuances between the buildings. Shooting on large format film using only natural light, he set up in the same position at all but one of the cathedrals – looking east towards the nave and altar as the dawn light streamed through the main window. By ensuring all artificial lighting was turned off, a rarity in many of these buildings whose lights remain on constantly, he captured the cathedrals emerging from the darkness as if suspended in time and removed from the modern age. This end result can be regarded as a contemporary update to the long tradition of church photography in England, namely Frederik Evans’ late 19th century imagery and Edwin Smith’s mid-
20th century work.

Peter’s remarkable photographs bring into sharp relief the full splendour of the interiors of some of England’s most magnificent buildings, great symbols of spiritual and architectural power.

“When immersed in Peter’s photographs we are metaphorically in some kind of contemplative enclosure, if not a sanctuary: one that confronts us with our own sense of being. The forms captured here are simultaneously concrete and abstract: containers of history, light and, above all, space. Despite of, and in parallel with, the undeniable structure of the architectural edifice, Peter captures the intangible essence of all form that is generated by creative force: the enduring mystery of space within space.”
Martin Barnes, The English Cathedral.

As part of the touring exhibition, Peter Marlow: The English Cathedral, the Peter Marlow Foundation has sought to take the visitor’s experience one step further by placing them in the role of photographer to take their own photographic ‘portraits’ of the exhibition at Wakefield Cathedral. When he photographed the 42 Anglican cathedrals for the series, Peter took extensive time and preparation prior to and during the process in capturing the final photograph displayed here in the exhibition. Part of this process was the use of Fujifilm FP 100 Instant film to test the view and the exposure of each shot. In recognition of this Fujifilm has supplied instax cameras and film at the exhibitions on the tour. Visitors are asked to take photographs of the exhibition in-situ and the visitors it attracts, utilising the example photographs by some of Peter’s fellow Magnum photographers, Elliott Erwitt, David Seymour (Chim), Chris Steele-Perkins, Stuart Franklin and David Hurn.

These instant photographs will create an interactive ever changing display that will be shared as part of the exhibition but also on the social media channels and websites of Magnum Photos, Wakefield Cathedral and Peter Marlow Foundation to create a contemporary public response to the works. Having these instant images allowed for an immediate assessment of the composition as well as creating an additional accompanying set of photographs. For each hosting cathedral, Peter Marlow Foundation will choose a winner. This person will be awarded an Estate Stamped Fine Print of a cathedral photograph of their choice.

A sold-out monograph of Peter Marlow’s The English Cathedral was published by Merrell in 2012 with a second edition in 2015. Featuring texts by Martin Barnes, Senior Curator of Photographs at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) London, and John Goodall, architectural editor of Country Life magazine, it also includes Peter’s own account of his ‘cathedral days’ as well as his technical commentary of how he achieved these intensely detailed images. A full set of the prints are held in the V&A’s permanent collection.


Peter Marlow (1952 – 2016) was an eminent, internationally recognised photographer, a two-time President of the international photography cooperative, Magnum Photos of which he was a member since 1980. He was made an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society in 2006 and his work is held in 12 public collections worldwide. His work as a photographer spanned 41 years and 84 countries, capturing major world events for prestigious magazines and newspapers and his personal long and short form projects. His archive includes work of international interest as well as shining a light on Britain. Exhibitions include Point of Interest; London at Night; and The English Cathedral at The Wapping Project Bankside; Magnum
Contact Sheets (Magnum Agency London, and touring); and No Such Thing as Society – Photography in Britain 1967-1987 from the British Council and Arts Council Collection, at Hayward Gallery which toured to Centre Pompidou, Paris, amongst other international venues. His work is in numerous collections including the Arts Council England; Victoria and Albert Museum; Qatar Museums; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Harry Ransom Center, Texas; Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa; Library of Birmingham; and the Tokyo Fuji Art Museum.


The Peter Marlow Foundation encourages, examines and celebrates the photography of humanity, its impact and legacy. From 2024 it will do this from a gallery based in Dungeness, Kent, housing an extensive archive and library of photography books, public exhibitions, a residency programme and cultural programme open to schools, the public and professionals. In his lifetime Peter Marlow worked all over the world and his ever thoughtful photographs deal with close observation of the physical and personal landscape that is often overlooked. His lens was always on the human and social. The Foundation will continue in this spirit, providing a focus on social realism and people, both in the work it shares and in the activity it generates.

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