Sometimes when you are shooting at these beautiful churches you can lose all sense of time. On the day that we photographed the abbey church in Lavaudieu in the Auvergne, we had already shot the extraordinary Basilica Saint Julien in Brioude for three exhausting and exhilarating hours. We could have called it a day but we decided instead to push on to Lavaudieu. We entered the small hilltop village, pushing our leased car up through the narrow medieval streets. We didn’t know precisely where the church was, but experience has shown that they are almost always at the top of the hill in the center of a town. The streets were so narrow that we had to pull in the side mirrors for fear of knocking them off the car, what we called “taking in the ears”.
Near the top we hit a dead-end with a tight right hand turn and no room to maneuver. This did not look good at all. We sat at the intersection trying to figure out what to do and it boiled down to a simple choice. We could somehow maneuver the car to make the turn or back the car up several hundred feet to the previous intersection. I don’t know how we did it, but we managed the tightest possible three-point turn and got through the intersection. We found ourselves at a small tree-lined square in front of the church.
Inside, a beautiful painted church awaited us, quiet and patient. As we admired the frescoes and the superb barrel vault, we found the energy to start our shooting. We spent two hours in the church, moving from one shot to the next, happily capturing all that she had to offer. Finally, after two hours, I was finished, exhausted. PJ was in the distance, still shooting, so I carefully took my equipment apart and put it away for the day. Then I sat down in the last row of pews and happened to turn around. The waning afternoon light was coming through the open west entrance out onto the floor, just barely lighting the stone font.
It was a perfect opportunity for a photograph, just waiting there for me. Sometimes the best shots are the result of work, planning and diligence. Sometimes, the gods smile on us and favor us with something beyond what we are capable of planning.