I do find it strange that being raised protestant (okay, being protestant) I find so much to photograph in Catholic churches—or that the photographs in Catholic churches raise so many questions. The main one is ‘why did I do that’.
Actually, that’s the main question to most of my photography.
Actually, that’s the main question to most of my photography.
I was originally very disappointed with my efforts at St Louis Cathedral. It seemed that I had wasted a great opportunity. On a deeper examination, maybe I didn’t do as badly as first thought.
I don’t know that I came away with a single photograph that is really worthwhile (okay, I really don’t believe that but had to say it to give the appearance of being much more humble than I actually am). I very much like the photograph of the crucifix. I find the photograph of the prayer candles with the saint very interesting. Being protestant I do not understand saints, or asking intersession from a saint. I may mention God or Christ in a prayer but never Mary. I am sure there are people that do understand and I will have to believe that as being right for them. In the end, I am maybe not excited but pleased in spite of my original reservations.
Most photographers seem to be satisfied with accepting photography as a recording medium, on occasion even I do. But it is much more interesting to ask yourself why, what drew me to taking a particular photograph beyond the fact that everyone else takes pictures of whatever it is so it must be a good subject to photograph. For instance, why do I photograph in Catholic churches? Why do I photograph in churches period?
Okay, I am off on another Woodard tangent. It all started with thinking about this photograph. At one time this image was mostly green. When it was originally a very warm tone with mostly normal contrasts, why did I make it green? Why did I decide to change it to more neutral colors, almost like spot color? And, why did I decided to take the photograph when a woman in white shorts was walking down the aisle. I would never consider going into a church in shorts. I could have waited until the aisle was clear or until a more suitable subject came into the area.
This discussion has to begin with the premise that ‘today’ I like the way the photograph/photographs were taken; I like the way they are processed. That does not mean that I will like the same tomorrow. I find that the first processing of many of my photographs is much harsher than I end up liking. Even that prompts Why? A lot get reprocessed at a later date. Many of the photographs from St Louis have been processed very harshly; meaning lots of darks, lots of contrast. That in itself prompts the question ‘Why would I process a photograph taken in a church harshly?’ Would I process a photograph taken in a protestant church the same way? Because I have been dealing with the question for a very long time I believe I understand why I often tend to process photographs of the crucifix harshly or radically but I am not sure that I understand much beyond that.
For some reason I was attracted to the two cherubs that stood on either side of the center aisle. Must have been because I did a number of photographs. Alcy tells me they hold the Holy Water. I was interested in the cherubs in relation to the altar, the aisle and even the people walking down the aisle. A few of them I processed but like many of the photographs from St Louis the finished image does not look similar to what you see when you are standing there looking at them. Some I played with color, some I played with light, some I played with tones. Did I create images that say more than simple documentation? That is for someone else to answer. I know that I enjoy the questions the images bring to mind.
My photographs ask me many questions that I am not sure that I have any idea of the correct answer. Maybe it is because I sincerely believe that questions are more important than answers. Much of life is wasted because we have the correct answer to the wrong question. Unless it is the right question the answer is totally useless. Besides that, finding the right question is much more interesting, and more difficult, than finding the answer.
Of these two photographs of the crucifix on a side wall, one is processed much as it appeared, possibly a little warmer than the naked eye would see, but close to ‘realistic’; the other as I would process for content. Of course I like the second one better because, as I see it, it is the difference between documenting the appearance of an object, the crucifix, and attempting to create context, in this case the darkness of the world, the suffering of Christ on the cross and emphasis of hope in the light from above. The crucifix is a beautiful object of art and in itself has great symbolism but why not use that beauty and symbolism for a more personal goal? I wanted to say for a higher purpose but I am not sure that everyone other than myself would see it as a higher purpose—but it cannot be denied that is a more personal purpose.
I discovered in 2007 when I first photographed the missions in San Antonio that I enjoy playing with the concept of darkness and the light coming out of darkness when photographing in a church. That plays into two of the photographs from St Louis: the one of the crucifix with the light shining from above the head of Christ and in the photograph of the chandelier where there is not only the bulbs of the chandelier providing light in the darkness but the windows behind that appear door shaped like possible portals out of the darkness.
Maybe I am the only one that gets these weird associations but that is okay. It is why I take photographs. In probably eighty percent of my photographs I have no desire to show how something looks. I am interested in learning how I see something with the possibility that might suggest to someone else something about how they see things. Does it work? Probably not for anyone but me. That is a little negative but I do know that if it had not been for this weird approach I would have given up photography many years ago. If you want to know how something looks go look at it, don’t waste time photographing it.
Joan of Arc and a Crusader speak of the militaristic aspects of the church. To a protestant they are both strange décor for a place of worship. Historically interesting, beautifully crafted works of art, but a strange degree of reverence.
Okay, I will shut up shortly—after I talk about this one last image. I find this interesting and wish to share some of my thoughts on the image to illuminate the processing.
I wanted to emphasize two aspects of the image: the opulence and majesty of the altarpiece and the relative insignificance of the two figures along with some of the metaphorical connotations I find.
Of course it begins with the strong contrasts between light and dark, symbolically good and evil. The lights and darks are almost equal in volume denoting a lack of dominance, a struggle. At the top we have blues, symbolically looking up, heavenly, peaceful, and optimistic. Then we have white for purity, golds—the most incorruptible of metals, brightness, light, inspiration, value. Then below, the darkness and browns of earth and the ways of the world surrounding the two almost hidden figures; one of which is dressed in red the color associated with desire, lust, possibly sinfulness or maybe the shed blood of Christ. The smallness of the figures allows them, within the context of this image, to be over powered by the opulence, majesty and simply by the much larger volume given to their surroundings. Okay, you don’t see it and you’re throwing the flag on the call. That’ okay. Just trying to explain why I take photographs.