‘Secrets Whispered Among Angels’: Photographer Charlie Lyne’s Response to the Monument to Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton (1831–1891) by Alfred Gilbert, Edwin Lutyens, and Farmer & Brindley, c.1893–1902
For her response for the 50 Monuments in 50 Voices project, photographer Charlie Lyne sought out the theatricality of certain monuments, whether through the sculptural interaction between figures or their individual gestures, or, as she explains below, by creating moments of surprise through her own photographic engagement with the sculpture.
Her collage Silent Stone Storytellers (see below) incorporates a variety of monuments. including the marble monuments to Captain George Blagdon Westcott (1743-1798) by Thomas Banks, 1802–1804; to Major General Sir William Ponsonby (1772-1815) by William Theed and Edward Hodges Baily, 1816–1821; and to Vice Admiral Lord Rodney (1718-1792) by John Charles Felix Rossi, 1811–1815. of which Charlie says the following:
This particular sculpture inspired a wider interpretation of my visit. Embracing the colder tone, I delved into the interplay of light and darkness, both soft and striking. In one powerful moment, I discovered an intriguing juxtaposition of shadows and the sculpture itself: from a certain angle, it gave the impression that the male figure gripped the female’s wrist, only to reveal he held his sword while she gestured upward (as seen in the elongated rectangular image in the collage below). I also explored a compelling comparison between two images of the same sculpture that appeared identical, except for a striking difference in lighting causing a completely different narrative (as seen in the two circled images in the collage).Charlie Lyne
Ultimately, though, it was the bronze relief panel in the monument to Edward Robert Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (1831–1891) by Alfred Gilbert, Edwin Lutyens, and Farmer & Brindley, c.1893–1902, that held Charlie’s attention and captured her imagination, as she explains:
Introduction to Secrets Whispered Among Angels
By Charlie Lyne
During my visit to St Paul’s, one particular sculpture surprised and captivated me above all others. Tucked away in a dimly lit area of the crypt, behind a door, a dark bronze monument mounted on the wall caught my eye. Initially expecting to pass it by quickly, I soon realised that capturing its essence would pose a unique challenge for me as a theatre photographer.
What intrigued me most about this sculpture was the closed eyes of each figure. As a photographer, I’m accustomed to capturing actors on stage, where their eyes are generally the focus point of the shot, conveying a myriad of emotions. When it came to this monument in particular, I had to find alternative means to tell a compelling story.
The dimly lit sculpture demanded that I incorporate my own lighting techniques, which enabled me to open a world of untold narratives waiting to be revealed. It is perhaps worth noting that this also allowed me to change the narrative from the same sculpture or image.
Without knowing the sculpture’s history and background, I carefully selected which elements I wanted to highlight in this frozen moment in time. The direction and introduction of light, similarly to the way stage lights are incorporated, breathed life into the scene, casting shadows and giving the image dramatic undertones. The spontaneous lens flare accentuated the ethereal essence, fully transforming the atmosphere and lending a calming and otherworldly allure. Similarly, capturing this moment had to be just as spontaneous in a practical sense, in order to photograph the moment as it occurred, just as I have to in the theatre.
Editing the photographs offered countless possibilities, with hues, saturation, and other adjustments transforming each image’s tone. Breaking away from the conventional golden glow often associated with angels and cherubs, I embraced a colder, blue essence, seeking the unexpected and defying norms. This is engrained in me as a theatre photographer, as I’m forever trying to find the shot that’s never been shot.
By turning my focus to frozen art forms, it highlighted to me the adaptability of theatrical tools and their profound influence on storytelling, as well as how my response and presentation of that form as a photographer can both shape and relay that narrative to the audience.
Secrets Whispered Among Angels by Charlie Lyne
About Charlie Lyne
Charlie Lyne is a London-based theatre and creative portrait photographer whose work covers every aspect of the creative process, including workshop, rehearsal, and production shots. Her work has been published in national-scale publications such as The Telegraph and spans from working in Fringe theatre to the West End. Recent clients include Donmar Warehouse, National Youth Theatre, Alexandra Palace Theatre, The Mono Box and Open Door.
About the Monument
Edward Robert Bulwer-Lytton (1831 – 1891) was both a statesman and a poet, who also published under the name Owen Meredith. He held diplomatic posts across Europe before being appointed Viceroy of India in 1876. He oversaw the proclamation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877 and was in post for most of the Second Anglo-Afghan War. He was appointed ambassador to France in 1887 and died in post in 1891.
The commission for Bulwer-Lytton’s monument was initially awarded to Sir Alfred Gilbert RA (1854 – 1934) and the sculptor did indeed complete the striking cast-bronze relief panel. However, Gilbert severely over-ran the time allotted, as at the time, he was also contending with a fall-out with the Royal Academy, the breakdown of his marriage and bankruptcy. The architect Sir Edwin Landseer Lutyens (1869 –1944), who was Bulwer-Lytton’s son-in-law, took possession of Gilbert’s work, which had to be bought from the bankruptcy sale, and he drafted designs for the mouldings. The monument was then handed over for completion to Farmer and Brindley, the eminent Victorian ecclesiastical and architectural company, who set the bronze into its marble surround. The monument was finally unveiled in 1903 and is located on the wall of the south isle of the Chapel of St Faith in the cathedral crypt.