Vilokini Gail Abbott
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Driving through the mountains of Crete I discovered tiny churches tucked away out of sight down dusty tracks or in tiny villages. Always unlocked, they showed signs of being cared for, and even used, with lamps trimmed and oil containers ready for topping up. I particularly enjoyed the conjunction of the sacred and the secular - printed PVC cloths on tables laden with kitchen roll, dead batteries and plastic bags.


On a recent trip to Bulgaria I stayed at the home and studio of photographer Tim Clinch for a five-day workshop. It was a wonderful to visit a Roman town still undergoing excavation, markets in the local town and Tim's own village, Mindya, with its mix of smart new renovations and once beautiful, but now neglected, houses and shops. But it was the ancient painted monasteries that caught my imagination. These are painted inside and out, with beautiful iconography and colours, and I was intrigued as to how the paintings survive the bitter winters and the hot summers of Bulgaria.

Still life

It was on my trip to Bulgaria that I delved in to shooting still life. Ater so many years as a stylist for magazine and book shoots, it was a delight to take my turn behind the camera. Guided by Tim Clinch, and using his beautiful painted linen cloths, I enjoyed  setting up flowers and vegetables that we had bought from Veliko Turnovo market to make pared-back and simple shots.



The Cambridge Buddhist Centre was built in 1814 as The Barnwell theatre and the building has a fascinating history. In 1878  Robert Sayle bought it to use as a mission hall for the Evangelising Society. In 1914 it was used as a boy's club by Kings College, and in 1926 millionaire Terence Gray bought it and used it as a theatre, when it underwent huge modernisation. It was Terence Gray who renamed it The Festival Theatre. In the 1940's the theatre was used as a venue for entertaining the troops before it was bought by the Cambridge Arts Theatre as a wardrobe and store. 

The Windhorse Trust bought the theatre in 1999, repaired and renovated it, so that today it is the home of a thriving spiritual community on Newmarket Road. used every day for meditation and Buddhism classes, for festivals and gatherings, and sometimes theatrical perfomances.

But there are plenty of forgotten areas, upstairs in the gods, down little-used stairs and along corridors used only for storage. I spent many weeks during my MA project crawling around the dusty and forgotten corners noting and photographing the light as it crept over the floorboards.

Have a tour of the theatre on our Open Studios weekends.

July Open Studios

Cambridge Open Studios 2019
Cambridge Open Studios 2019
Travel and still life photography

I worked for over 20 years as a stylist and writer for interior design magazines, as well as publishing over 12 books on crafts and home interiors, before returning to art school in 2011 to complete an MA in Printmaking at The Cambridge School of Art.

 My previous career, which involved  working closely with a professional photographer, influenced my work and for my Masters final project I found myself focusing on the little-visited top floor of the ex-Festival Theatre, now the Cambridge Buddhist Centre. 200 years of largely-untouched history was buried beneath the grime, and I spent many weeks photographing the light as it played across the dusty floorboards. The images were projected onto Victorian canvas wall coverings, which in turn had been layered over the original Georgian matchboarding. 

For the more recent photographic work I visited other historic, and more remote places of worship - tiny mountain churches in Crete and highly-decorated painted monasteries in Bulgaria. While in Bulgaria I rediscovered a love of still-life imagery, an ongoing work in progress.