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Historic Photographer of the Year Winner in 2017

Matt Emmett was last years' winner. He is an architectural and historic locations photographer of lesser known places with fascinating back stories. He works with heritage organisations on photographing at-risk buildings and the restoration process. He is an ambassador for Pentax, Manfrotto & Scurion.

Find out the story behind his winning photo and how things have changed for him since winning the competition.

How did you feel when you realised you’d won?

Completely over the moon! I was half asleep and travelling to work on the morning train and had forgotten the announcement was due. When I remembered, I quickly went online to check. When I saw my image listed in the winners announcement I woke up fairly quickly and the person opposite me must have wondered why I was beaming a huge grin at him.

How has winning the awards affected you?

It has directly lead to work on two Heritage Lottery Fund projects and into a relationship with Heritage Open Days who all mentioned the HPOTY win when they approached me to discuss working together. Winning has absolutely been instrumental in pushing my photographic career forward.

What’s the story behind your photo?

It was a hospital site that changed hands several times over the last century. It had been an RAF hospital up until 1983, but was loaned to the US as a wartime contingency hospital in 1984. The US used the site to treat wounded personnel flown back from Iraq during 'Operation Desert Storm' but it only treated around 35 patients due to the quick resolution of the conflict. The US handed the site back in 1995 and it has remained unused since then, gradually falling into a derelict state. The shot shows the longest corridor on the site that leads from the operating suite (behind the camera) towards the various wards.  I used a long lens (300mm) to bring the distant corridor closer into view, this has the effect of compressing layers in the shot.

Long corridor of former military hospital at RAF Nocton Hall
Long corridor of former military hospital at RAF Nocton Hall © Matt Emmett

What is it about the location that inspired you?

This abandoned military hospital site in Lincolnshire was a location I have shot twice now and has a very strange atmosphere that hangs over which lends itself well to imagery. I also love images that show a contrast between how the location is now and how it would have been when in use.

What equipment did you use to take the shot?

I used a Pentax K3 and Pentax DA 55-300mm
Manfrotto 55 carbon Tripod

What factors were you thinking about when taking the shot?

Because the camera was portrait orientated and zoomed right in at 300mm I was only getting a small part of the finished image in frame, so I had to then pan the camera horizontally and capture other frames to the left and right of the centre frame and then stitch them together in post production. I love shooting panoramic images like this because it often gives me more than I need in terms of image and resolution and I can then take my time on the computer and with careful use of cropping produce the image I want.

Which of your photos are you most proud of?

The shot I am most proud of is an image taken inside Cell 1 at the National Gas Turbine Establishment. I love it because of the process I went through to achieve the final image. The tunnel is backlit and lit along most of its length but I managed to find a way to hide the light source from the camera and avoid a light streak from appearing in the end result.

Jet engine testing tunnel
Jet engine testing tunnel at National Gas Turbine Establishment © Matt Emmett

Where are your favourite places to travel for photographic inspiration?

Way too many to mention. I have loved shooting in parts of Europe, Iceland, Asia, South America. But I always seek out forgotten places or lesser known history. I get a real kick out of the sense of history that you feel there. Just recently I was at the Neolithic Rock Tombs at Paphos (Cyprus) and was waiting at the gate for it to open. Once inside I was alone for two hours just soaking up the stillness and silence in the tombs, and taking a few pictures.

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