A Space for Faith: The Colonial Meetinghouses of New England by Paul Wainwright
From A Space for Faith: The Colonial Meetinghouses of New England by Paul Wainwright
From LensWork Extended #90
© 2010 Paul Wainwright. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the photographer.
For those of you who are subscribers to LensWork Extended, perhaps you remember this image from last year and Paul Wainwright's portfolio A Space for Faith. There was something particularly interesting about this image that escaped me at first glance.
Almost without exception, photography presents us with the point of view that is clearly looking through the photographer's eyes or, perhaps, from a nebulous, neutral position that appears to be looking through no one's eyes. This image in Wainwright's portfolio is quite unusual in that it presents us a point of view that is neither neutral nor merely the photographer's viewpoint. We are looking through the eyes of the colonial preacher from the point of view where he would be looking down at the congregation, the Good Book at the ready on the pulpit in front of him. As a viewer of this photograph, it's almost an out-of-body experience.
When I became aware of this sensation, I tried to think of other photographs that had given me a similar visceral experience. I'm sure there are some, but I can't seem to pull any examples up from memory. Most of the images that came to mind presented me with that neutral perspective of a third person experience, to borrow the analytical phrase from literature.
Perhaps this sensation is augmented by the open door. We can almost feel a pause of preparation before the congregation arrives. Imagine this image with the door closed and you will see what an important element this is in the composition. Also, it's an incredibly important part of the photographic craft that Wainwright was able to hold a hint of detail outside that door as well as through the windows. Again, imagine this image with detail-less whites where we now see a hint of tonality, perhaps trees in the front of the building.
And finally, there is a marvelous compositional element in this image that speaks of the rectitude of colonial-era worship — an almost rigid bilateral symmetry, broken only by the slight camera angle and the dissimilar direction of the two halves of the front door. Perfect symmetry might have diminished the composition by denying these important elements that emphasize the symmetry. We see, of course, in terms of contrast, and the symmetry of the building and our point of view are only emphasized by the asymmetry in the pages of the book and the angle of the open front door.
When sequencing Wainwright's work for publication, we felt this image was such a powerful way to set the tone for this portfolio about colonial meeting houses of New England that we use it as the opening image in his portfolio. It created a mood that carried through the entire body of work. These are the specific kinds of things we look for in the editing process for that all-important first image.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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