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11:41 GMT, Thursday, 3 September 2009 12:41 UK

A photographic labour of love

By Jemima Laing
BBC Devon

Aveton Gifford church

An Australian man is breathing new life into a 100-year-old book about Devon's churches as part of a project to snap all England's rural churches.

Cameron Newham says he's not obsessed but agrees a plan to learn a bit about the country he now calls home has grown bigger than he could have imagined.

"I didn't set out to do this, it's just sort of happened!" he says.

Cameron - who moved to the UK from Perth, Australia, 12 years ago - is a photographer and author.

His interest in photographing England's churches began when he moved to the UK and decided to start going out at weekends to visit interesting places.

Church at Ashcombe

"That was combined with the arrival of cheap digital cameras so I started taking photographs and it just started from there," explained Cameron.

He's not aware of any similar pictorial chronicles of rural churches.

And it was when he came to photograph the churches of Devon he came across the books of John Stabb.

The historian and antiquarian published a series of books on the best Devon churches and their treasures illustrated with 400 of his own photographs in 1908.

So the volumes inspired Cameron to create his own version.

"I really do admire what he achieved," said Cameron.

"Not all the churches were as accessible as they are now and certainly his equipment was not as portable as mine, he had a huge camera and made lantern slides.

Interior of church at Ottery

"Given the constraints he faced he did a remarkable job."

Cameron's new book republishes Stabb's text and sets it alongside hundreds of new colour photographs and updated descriptions from recent visits.

"I have photographed all the same churches apart from one in Buckfastleigh which burnt down about 10 years ago.

"I am publishing it myself, so I suppose you could describe it as a labour of love.

"And I'm not just saying this but it was a real pleasure taking the photographs in Devon."

So does he have any particular favourites in the county?

"Honeychurch - this is famous and just about everyone loves it - Buckland-in-the-Moor, Dunterton, and also nearby Bradstone as well as Brent Tor, Cullompton, Talaton, Broadclyst and Bere Ferrers."

The first volume of Devon churches has now been published and covers Abbots Bickington to Butterleigh.

"I expect to get the last volume finished by the beginning of 2011. As all the pictures have already been taken it's just a matter of setting them to the text."

So is this massive undertaking a gift to his adopted home?

"Yes I suppose it is but there is also one slightly selfish element to it as well.

"I published a computer book a few years ago and as well as the money, of course, it was really something to see your name in print.

Church at Ashburton

"So I suppose this is a bit about ensuring that my name will be known in 100 years.

"The thing I also want people to be aware of is that, by my estimation, somewhere between 80 and 85% of Devon churches are open during the day and I don't think people realise that."

He started taking the photographs in Devon and Cornwall in March 2007 and was finished by January 2008.

He adopted a methodical approach trying to photograph seven or eight buildings a day.

He is currently photographing churches in Yorkshire where he now lives and his eventual ambition is to make his entire archive searchable online.

So doesn't the attraction of continually photographing churches begin to pall a bit after a while?

"Not at all," laughed Cameron, "they all have their own individual character and I never get bored. If I did I would stop."

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