Seeing & Looking
“ PEOPLE THINK THE CAMERA steals their soul. Places, I am convinced, are affected in the opposite direction. The more they are photographed (or drawn and painted) the more soul they seem to accumulate.”
~ John Pfahl (Photographer, teacher. Feb 17, 1939-April 15, 2020)
Gardener, opera fan and photographer John Pfahl knew about intimacy. He had, according to his loving family, a deep interest in people. Mr. Pfahl's recent passing, from multiple life-threatening issue complicated by Covid-19, was a loss. His work, and the quote above, inspires a question: What brings us back to a place?
Perhaps the accumulated soul of special places loosens a space within us that had been confined. Returning to our evocative places can add layers to our experience of it. Our appreciation of the setting grows as our memories of it deepen. Place familiarity, instead of breeding contempt, grows into intimacy.
Locate in the Bahamas, Saint Saviors church is one of these healing places, as it invites a photographic effort to evoke the invisible though the visible. If saying so appears not too pretentious, photographing Saint Saviors church is a search for the soul of a place.
An Anglican parish on Cat Island in the southeast Bahamas, Saint Saviors was the 'mother church' of New Bight community, and to many it is still an important part of its faith. To get to the island, we sailed from Florida and then south and east of Nassau. Located off the Queens Highway near a gas station and store, the structure of the building still stands. The roof is almost gone, its beams taken away from hurricane winds. The grounds around the edifice, dried bushes and encroaching trees, were cleared in 2020 by a restoration committee of devoted Anglican community members.
Cat Island is the cultural heart of the Bahamas. It's residents preserve their history. Speaking to an Anglican elder who was born on the island, I heard about Saint Saviors' furnishings. Rose Johnson, a church member in her late 70's, told me she had preserved Saint Saviors' pulpit. Father Eric Miller, an Anglican priest, shared his plans to eventually restore Saint Saviors' edifice itself, so he is fundraising and rebuilding several Anglican churches on Cat Island.
Why go back to this remote ruin? Inside its walls, Saint Saviors radiates the light of the world. Shadows scamper across its walls in a dance. Near the Baptismal font, dark shadows from a few remaining roof beams play across the walls when the sun appear above the clouds. Through its western windows, green tendrils advance into Saint Saviors open interior. It is easy to imagine what a vibrant place of worship the church had been, and could become again. Seated on the church floor near the baptismal font, I recall words of writer and photo instructor Minor White: “ Venture into the landscape without expectations. Let your subject find you. When you approach it, you will feel resonance, a sense of recognition. Sit with your subject and wait for your presence to be acknowledged.” Once again I begin to photograph.
Saint Saviors keeps calling to the soul. Its ethos speaks in the hushed voices of a spiritual community. These murmurs are promising. They echo with the hope that, under the guidance of Father Eric Miller and a faithful community, this Cat Island mother church will once again become a place of worship for many souls.
Photos and Writings by Jim Austin Jimages