Getting the shot (PJ McKey)


Photographs are elusive. They are images, moments seen or missed, teasing at the corners of our consciousness. Once you find them and know they are there they must be captured and this is where Dennis’ style differs so completely from mine.

Our photography of the the Romanesque churches is a bit like a safari. There is enough equipment to give a pack animal pause. It goes everywhere with us. Like a toddler, it demands constant attention, cleaning, caring for, and can never be left alone for a minute. Who gets the rolling bag of equipment when we go into churches is always up for discussion. Mostly Dennis minds “the baby” He knows it would only slow me down.

Dennis waiting patiently at Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vézelay

You see, Dennis is patient. He contemplates. He’s like an old master with oil paints, carefully composing, studying the scene, attempting to understand it and know its secrets. He can wait for as long as it takes for the aisle to clear, for the light to be right. He watches and waits. For every photograph he takes, I take three. Okay, maybe five. Dennis seems to know what shots he wants. He goes for them and doesn’t give up till he’s used his skill to capture what he truly sees. He forms a bond with the space. They seem to talk to each other, discuss.

Me in action at Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Pierre, Jumièges

I’m not in control. The church pulls me around from one exciting image to the next. I can’t get enough of it. I want it now. I was once almost locked into the crypt of the Abbey church in Tournus when it closed at night because I didn’t hear the concierge throwing everybody else out. Dennis realized that I was still inside and had me rescued.

I’m impulsive. I’m searching. I’m mesmerized often by little things, pieces of sculpture, an open door framed by light, a hat left behind, the juxtaposition of two objects, color and patterns. I can be absorbed by chairs, their shapes in the light, the history of all who have been there. I’m the modern artist, trusting my instincts, operating from the part of the brain that lets the eye move the hand bypassing the interfering consciousness that might miss or judge the moment.

Dennis and one of his many friends at the Abbaye de Bénédictins Saint-Georges, Saint-Martin-de-Boscherville

I’m envious of many of Dennis’ photos. They reflect his patience; he captures the essence of a space. I used to think to myself, “I could have gotten that shot if I only waited.” He replies, looking at one of my shots, “I could have gotten that if I had seen it,” with a smile. Dennis stands, or sits calmly. People often come up to him curious about his work. He’s approachable. People rarely speak to me because I’m a bit manic. I’m sure I put out the “can’t you see I’m creating now” vibe that keeps them at a distance. That suits me fine. I’m in my bubble, my zone. Besides it hard to talk to someone practically standing on her head to photograph some distant corner on the ceiling where two arches intersect.

At the end of the day, the equipment tucked in for the night, we take a quiet moment before dinner to look at our shots. It’s then that our styles become evident. Dennis sees the big picture; I notice the details. He gets the forest, I get the bark on the trees. It’s a good combination. We often say “I didn’t see that” when looking at each others photos. We understand and appreciate our differences. We learn from each other. And I get him to carry the equipment.

If you are interested in seeing more of our images, please see the Via Lucis website.

5 responses to “Getting the shot (PJ McKey)

  1. You two are lucky to have each other. It must be a wonderful thing to share your creativity, photography, and passion for your subjects…….my wife takes no interest in photography except for the occasional, “that’s nice” compliments. Quite unselfishly though, she does let me carry the heavy stuff.

  2. How right you are, Tim. PJ is an artist first, a photographer second. Leave her in a locked room and you can come back an hour later and she will have made exquisite bookends out of a pair of high heel shoes. But she is as passionately interested in this project as I am. And don’t think my appreciation lags. Not a whit.

  3. Sounds like you two are a match made in heaven. Thanks for sharing your personal perspective PJ. I can really relate to your approach.

  4. The differences in your two styles is what makes the group of images as a whole much more dynamic. PJ is the yin and Dennis, the yang.

    P.S. No surprise that Mom’s not deemed approachable while she’s shooting. I’ve been told, “Get out of the way because I’m ruining the shot”. 🙂

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