The great invisible! He dwells
Conceal’d in dazzling light.
Isaac Watts, The Divine Perfections
A great joy in photographing these churches is to observe the nature of the light. This is truly the photographer’s delight. Sometimes the light is as simple as a shaft penetrating from a single window above the chancel. Other times, it is a glorious and radiant display of color and texture that transfixes the viewer. In the great Romanesque churches, it is different than the jeweled display of the Gothic; it is a simpler and more direct light. It is a light that meant something to the monks and nuns, which was the burning and shining light of God himself.
In Brioude, PJ and I came into the church and illumination was gloriously visible in the soaring nave. We were greedy to start; we entered and began shooting immediately, before we got to our regular shooting positions. Normally I go in, set up the tripod and shoot the center aisle to the apse shot, dead-on, the establishing shot, so to speak. But the light was so astonishing through the windows, rich primary colors splashing down over painted columns, that we departed from our norm. We were like greedy children, grabbing each shot before we lost the light. And the miracle of it was that the light was perfect for three hours and we shot continuously, hungrily. The light changing hourly; we would shoot, move and shoot more, than look up and want to reshoot what we’d shot an hour earlier. We shot from the floor, climbed up to the gallery levels and shot down into the church, but in all that time neither of us made it to the chancel or the apse, despite the fact that the church was almost empty. We finished our three hours, three concentrated hours of shooting without a break, and it was like we had run a marathon. Such a pleasant, happy exhaustion.
When we finished, PJ came up to me, eyes glazed and said, “Slap me, I can’t stop.” I laughed, but understood exactly how she felt; it was like being drugged. We must have shot 300 exposures each that day in Saint Julien and could have shot another 500 if we had time. So this year, in May, we will be going back to Brioude, to finish what we started. We’ll shoot until we’re exhausted, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll make it to the apse this time.
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