Historic Altar Breaks Rules of Photography


Old buildings are fascinating.  Buildings constructed before the use of modern-day computers and cranes capable of lifting tons of steel and concrete are just as complex as their modern-day counterparts.  What makes them this way?  Everything had to be done by hand.

In Jerome, Arizona rests the Holy Family Catholic Church.  This building is an example of late 19th century American western construction.  The building, constructed in 1894, served as the Catholic Church for the Jerome area.  Jerome was a copper mining town of the American Wild West.  Once the mining boom disappeared so did most of Jerome.

The building is still open everyday for people to offer prayers, but the dwindling population of Jerome means that the church is no longer used for weekly mass.  This allowed me the opportunity to get inside to take some incredible shots of this beautiful old church.

When looking at old buildings you often discover that the flooring is uneven. Sometimes, this is due to an unskilled worker making mistakes during its construction.  After all in the historic American West you didn’t always have a trained carpenter or stone mason available to do the job the right way.  More commonly though, the settling of the foundation due to the weight of the building over so many decades is a much more likely scenario.

The result is the picture Altar.  You can see that the front pews and the railings, where holy communion used to be given, are straight.  In photography, you want straight horizons.  Your eyes and brain rebel when a horizon or back line is at a tilt. It gives a photograph an unpleasant effect.  Professional photographers tell you to always use a tripod to avoid this problem.  However, a tripod won’t help you here.

As your eye drifts up towards the Altar and the tabernacle, you will begin to notice something wrong.  It’s very subtle at first, but as your continue to look into the reredos behind the altar and then eventually to the ceiling you notice the wall, ceiling and even the floor are uneven.  In fact, it gets worse as your gaze lifts towards the ceiling.

So, we break the straight horizon rule of photography to dramatic effect.  This slant adds the personal character of the old church to an otherwise ordinary picture of a historic altar.  The settling of the old building indeed commands our attention to the finer details and the value of manual craftsmanship found in these old churches.

I think Altar makes a perfect Christmas card.  All printed Christmas cards arrive in a 5×8 inch format with a UV layer added to prevent fading.   You can even have a personal message printed on the inside.

When printed in a larger format it makes an ideal gift to a relative or family priest.

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