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By Joseph Dempsey stmary

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Since this is the Christmas season, an image of an ecclesiastical nature seems to be appropriate. (Please note, the Christmas season, not the Holiday season; my tolerance stops north of "Holiday" season.)  What you are seeing is St. Mary's Catholic Church, north of Pine Bluff, Arkansas. It's a very small building with a very long history. I'm told the roots of the church go back to some of the state's original settlers. If you look closely, you can see a cemetery to the right of the building. Some of the stones in this cemetery have "born on" dates in the 1700s.

As I understand it, the church no longer holds regular services. However, local parishioners of other churches take it upon themselves to see that the church building and grounds are very well taken care of.

You'll never see an image of the church exactly like this again. In the last few years, caretakers erected a chain link fence around the premises. And the tree is a mere shadow of what you see here.

I discovered the church while meandering about in the late sixties. It has changed little since then. For some reason, I waited until the late eighties to photograph this venerable house of worship. As I was sauntering about on one of my reconnoitering trips, I noticed a healthy crop of winter wheat immediately to the south of the church. I checked my compass and determined that when the fields were ripe unto harvest, late in the evening, the sun would be perpendicular to the side of the church.

If — and that's a big if — the skies were dark behind the church when the field was golden.... And if the sun were just right.... Well, the illumination would be spectacular.

From the moment my plan hatched, I began to check the location weekly until the wheat began to turn. Once it began to turn, I checked it daily. My vehicle had the route memorized. When the wheat began to take on the golden hues of harvest, I started to check the weather forecast.

Somehow, I believed the right conditions would exist, but not for long. To be successful in this area of photography, the first requirement is to be there.

I made several dry runs where things were not just right. In those days, you pretty well had to create the image in the camera. There were no digital images created by cameras at that juncture. Your film could be scanned, but for the most part, it was purely a matter of what you see is what you get.

But with half-graduate and polarizing filters, there was the possibility of helping Mother Nature a bit. It is said that the Lord takes care of fools and drunks. In my case, since both were applicable, I figured my chances for success were better than average. And sure enough, one spring afternoon, all of the correct and desirable conditions converged.


My heart was beating like a trip hammer. I set up the camera (a well-used Nikon F2 with the old 10-battery motor drive). Checked exposure, picked the right lens, and fired a few shots. Then I realized that in my frenetic haste, I had not loaded the camera with film.

Fortunately, divine intervention had directed me to give the take-up spool a little twist to see if there was any resistance. Forgetting the source of the inspiration to check it, I cursed my stupidity vehemently when there was indeed, no resistance.

Suffice to say, I loaded the camera and began to fire away. I chewed up several rolls, bracketing like a fool and whispering prayers of thanks.

There's not much of a moral to this story with the exception of this observation: In the quest for beauty, start where you are and work outward. This scene is less than 15 minutes from the place of my residence at the time of the shot.

N O T E :  
Nikon F2 / Tamron SP 70-210 F3.5 - f5.6 / Fuji professional chrome film ISO 100 / polarizing filter / half-grad filter ... and on the version for this web page, some work in Photoshop CS3

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