✿ Stone and Light ✿ (PJ McKey)


Hilltop village of Gordes (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

The Haute-Provence is Van Gogh country; immense blue skies, fierce mistral winds that blow constantly and a powerful sun that bakes colors into intensities that send artists running for their brushes. Van Gogh came here to try to paint the light; it is said by some that he went mad in the attempt. I understand that. It is all about the light here. Light takes the colors of our dreams and imaginations and magnifies them, wrapping them around the flowers, the olive trees, or anything in its path, transforming them with illusive patterns of light and shadow.

Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône) Photo by PJ McKey

I’ve come to understand that it’s not really the churches we photograph. We really try to photograph the light. It’s the light that creates the spaces as it plays across the surface of the stone. Light gives dimension, power, beauty and, of course, color. If you stay in a church long enough you will experience the ephemeral nature of light as it changes moment to moment with the movement of the sun, the clouds, the addition of a candle, the illumination of a stained glass window, or the sudden flash of a tourist’s camera.

Abbaye de Senanque (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

My experience of the church is profoundly connected to the light. I chase it around the church, shooting slow and long exposures to capture every molecule. The builders of these churches struggled to bring light to into these spaces. It was not easy to create windows in these walls, inserting bits of light or colored glass into that crushing weight. But they knew what Van Gogh knew, that light gives meaning. It is the source our perception. If you can harness the light as an artist you can control the very experience of your art. We associate life with light. Darkness is sinister, somber, sometimes the place of death. In these places, light is the architect of understanding.

Prieuré Notre-Dame de Ganagobie (Vaucluse) Photo by PJ McKey

18 responses to “✿ Stone and Light ✿ (PJ McKey)

    • Thank you for your comment. We’re very fortunate to have the opportunity to experience the dynamic power of theses spaces. PJ.

    • Arran, I see that you are from Dublin, so it isn’t that hard for you to get there. Thanks for the wonderful comments. We appreciate them very much and always welcome fellow voyagers. PJ

      • Hi PJ, nice to hear from you. I have been to Province and the South of France a few time, but it is never possible to see enough and I will certainly come and visit again some day. Your pictures of the church architecture really are very beautiful. If you have time there is a little piece on a chapel ( the Portlester Chapel) in Dublin you might enjoy on my blog. Anyway, my regards and respects- Arran.

    • Thanks, Viv. I’ve followed your conversations with Dennis and it is so nice to join in. Thank you for the compliments on my work. It means a great deal.

  1. wonderful. Some years ago when i went to St.Rafaël at the Mediterrean Coast I could hardly believe the light and the colours. The first days i couldnt sketch the right colours in my sketchbook.
    I needed a few days before i lost the Dutch palette.

  2. Absolutely stunning! from the photography, to the description. This is the stuff of dreams, if that makes sense? To find oneself in places that resound so strongly and leave such impressions is something I strive for myself. I also agree about light and Light and what it means. Overall I am at a loss, but I will simply say, one of my favorite reads ever!

  3. Thank you once again, PJ, for the photography and the reflection. What is softer than a warm light at eventide shimmering against hard stone? Together the light and stone – and the wind – take us to inner spaces “where light is the architect of understanding.” And the understanding is the eye of wonder, yes?

  4. Your post is so poetic as your photography is sublime. It was my good fortune to get acquainted with Via Lucis while searching for St. Foy in Conques in the process of planning the trip I am on. I want to thank you PJ and Dennis for sharing so much wealth of art, history and personal reflections. Jong-Soung

  5. Superb text and photos. Churches are perfect places for catching the interplay of light and shadow.

  6. Your photos are absolutely beautiful. I found them very moving, I think you have really captured the haunting beauty that has always attracted me to old churches and cathedrals. Very well done!

    • Thank you, Jason. PJ and I are passionate about this project of photographing our beloved Romanesque churches; it always gives us great pleasure that others are moved as we are by these structures.

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