On Sunday I spent the afternoon with a good friend and fellow photographer Keith Lack, exploring the amazing Winter Gardens Theatre in my old home town of Morecambe.
Keith is a keen urban explorer and we share a strong interest in old buildings, so when he gained access to the theatre I was more than keen to accept his invitation to spend some time photographing this amazing building.
The Winter Gardens is a Grade II listed building. Designed by architects Mangnall and Littlewood, with Frank Matcham as a consulting architect, it was originally built as the Victoria Pavilion Theatre in 1897 and was an extension to the existing Winter Gardens complex, which has since been demolished. The theatre closed to the public in 1977 and was listed the same year. It is considered to be one of Morecambe’s most significant features, and a campaign for its restoration has been ongoing since 1986.
The location is famous in its own right but for fans of the paranormal, it was thrust onto the paranormal circuit when the TV show Most Haunted did an eight day live special from there called “The Eight Faces of Evil” in 2009. From that point on, rarely a weekend goes by without some paranormal team, group or individuals booking it out and spend the night there.
Built on the site of a swimming baths, many people believe the old theatre is haunted – particularly the stage area, where, on one side of the stage people are sometimes harassed by a spiritual entity with enough anger to push, poke or even slap them. I can’t say we experienced any paranormal activity, but I don’t think I will be wanting to spend a night in the Winter gardens
From a technical point of view many of the images I made required HDR composites to deal with the massive exposure ranges found in the building. This is not a technique I often use and can at time find a bit offensive to be honest. So despite my reluctance I launched my HDR software and decided to give it a go.
The HDR technique seems to suit this style of image and to be honest working in such conditions without using multiple blended frames would be impossible. All the images shown were made on a Canon 5dmkII combined with a 14-40mm F4 Canon Lens. All the post production was done using Nik Software HDR Pro
Whilst making our way through the theatre we found a few small cameos, small details and objects, one which drew my attention was a singe chair abandoned in 6 inches of water in the cellar beneath the stage. The are was pitch black, so the only course of action was to paint the scene with light from a daylight balanced pocket torch. Despite kneeling in freezing cold water for the long exposures, I really do like the image we made.
Here are a few more images from our session, a new direction for me but one I have been keen to explore for some time and we have a list of sites to explore over the coming months.