I love to photograph people at work, or in this case play.
When I discovered that a member of a business group I attend was also a bell ringer I asked if I could go along to take photographs. “Yes” was the answer, though I was warned that there isn’t much room in the bell tower.
Always one for a challenge I went along one Friday evening recently to see what I could make of the bell ringing practice. More on the photography in a moment.
As musical instruments go there aren’t many that weigh several hundred kilograms, or require a team of people to climb inside to make a tune. Come to think of it, there aren’t many that will give you a workout as you play. Yet this all seem quite normal to the dedicated group of people who ring the bells at St Mary and St Luke’s church in Shareshill.
For those of you who have never set foot inside a bell tower the ringers stand in a circle and each has a rope that passes through a hole in the ceiling to a bell. In this tower there are six bells weighing between 181 Kg. and 457 Kg. Each bell is on a pulley allowing the rope to swing the bell to make the sound. Except it isn’t quite as simple as that.
Getting a couple of hundred kilograms of stationary bell in motion takes more than a gentle pull on the rope. Equally, stopping a couple of hundred kilograms of moving bell isn’t that easy either and unless you want to risk serious injury you have to learn to work with the bells not fight them.
Bell ringing is all about keeping each bell in motion in a controlled way. Ringing them in time with each other requires teamwork for which you need to listen, keep an eye on the next bell ringer along, and have a fair bit of stamina.
And the photography? The tower is a tiny room, the lighting is difficult, and you can’t see any of the bells. What you can see are six people pulling ropes and at any one time two or three of them have their hands covering their faces. Oh, and there’s hardly anywhere to stand to take photographs without being in the way or risking injury.
My aim was to convey the scene and capture the concentration and effort on the part of the ringers. And as in any team activity there is interaction between the players both while ringing and in their down time – it is a social activity and they do it for fun after all. As I said, always one for a challenge, here’s my take on bell ringing at Shareshill.
Many thanks to all the ringers for letting me go along to watch.
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