Every journey I make to document the churches of a new city has become thematic.
With rare exceptions, all churches have similar layout – my photos can easily become standard. I go down a standardized “shot list:” baptismal font to altar; the center aisle nave shot both from the floor and from a rear upstairs choir if the church has one; reverse direction baptismal shot from altar; center ceiling; altar detail; the large crucifix (my favorite)… But that’s laziness. I take these shots so that I can visually remember my experience of a particular church. But these are not the photos that speak to me about the Consecrated Space.
I must remember to let the environment dictate to me what to document. Each church – each city it seems—becomes a piece in a mosaic of the Consecrated Space. (Yes, I intentionally capitalize it, for I am capturing the momentary nuance of a consecrated space in part, and the essence in total within the whole of my work).
I am creating a mosaic.
I am being led, if ever so mildly. But I have to slow down and surrender in order to pay attention, to hear, to see what it is in any place that I document, to add as a tile to the mosaic. Sometimes I initially don’t see anything of interest, and then there’s one moment of atmosphere, a changed angle of perception, an object found, a slice of light, and the location sings for me with available voice of a direction to take.
What has been happening is a “theming” of sorts, birthed at each arrival in a new city – and I never know what theme is going to emerge. In the Czech Republic it was dualities. In Jerusalem it was worship. In Chicago it was the clergy.
In Memphis it is chairs, signs of the personal presence of people participating in the presentation and action of worship.
The chairs theme just emerged. A chair calls my attention, beckoning for its capture, and I go with it. I look around, and they are everywhere, but different here in Memphis than they have been elsewhere. I’ve taken photos of chairs before, everywhere I’ve been – but here they take precedence; here it is personal.
Something personal is being revealed in the everyday. Or maybe I am just seeing them differently here in Memphis, for lack of other, more dominant aesthetics or activities.
These chairs appear to my eyes.
…they appear as part of ceremony.
…they are part of neglect.
…they are waiting.
A vestment tossed over a chair.
A kneeler with a prayer taped to it.
Wheelchairs tucked away.
Folding chairs facing each other, as if confessions have taken place or will take place.
Something very human is present this trip, in a way that suggests the church community. The human presence is showing itself even in the absence of people: a bicycle in a cathedral aisle; a taped tear of a Bible page; a child’s wagon decorated with cardboard, paint, plastic, tape and tin foil to resemble the 1960’s TV Bat Mobile. There are coiled ropes that ring the tower bells, stairwells, chairs, books, shoes. Yes, the shoes of the organist, sitting there by the organ bench, left waiting to be of service on the feet again.
My favorite is Ed.
This is Ed’s place in the choir at the Greek Orthodox Church of the Ascension. I have photographed a few Orthodox churches before, and I am less than enthusiastic with my options here for new material.
The church is closing, and I have a pressing engagement. I am worn out. I climb the stairs to the rear choir for one last wide-angle shot. I am less than enthusiastic, but habit dictates a final look.
Theater style bench seats rise up in the choir. On the bench backs are taped the names of the choir members, their seating placement. I focus on Ed’s name.
I was tired and I wanted to leave, but this gem awaited my arrival.
Thank you, Ed.
I am making a mosaic.