Archive for February 26, 2010

A Few More from Holy Name Cathedral

A few more pictures from my excursion to Holy Name Cathedral on February 18th.  Ok, it hardly constituted an excursion – I work within walking distance.

The South Chancel Organ

This is the smaller of  the two instruments in the church.  The 19-stop, 2-manual instrument was built by Casavant Freres, of Saint-Hyacinthe, Canada.

South Chancel Organ

Behind the Altar

This was a treat – most people who see a church never get to walk up on to or behind the altar, since it’s not in the center of the structure like it is in some large churches.  I framed this picture for the aesthetics of it – the three chairs in the front dominate, but from the standpoint of religious significance, these are not the most important parts of the photograph.  Behind the three chairs, you can see the top half of the Cathedra, the Bishop’s Chair (without which, the building would not, after all, be called a “Cathedral”).  On it, are carved renderings of Jesus (in the middle), St. Peter to his right, Saint Paul to his left.  Above the Cathedra, you can see the bottom of several of the Sanctuary Panels – bronze reliefs representing the Holy Name of Jesus, from which the church derives its name.

Behind the Altar

Behind the Altar

The Metropolitan Cross

The Metropolitan Cross, which precedes the archbishop in processions, is rarely seen by most people who wander in to see the church.  As the deacon told us, it was only laying around because it had recently been used, so we were fortunate to get a close-up look at it.

Metropolitan Cross

The Metropolitan Cross

In the interest of artistic integrity, I have to mention that I did peel this one off of its background.  At the particular angle I chose to shoot it (and there weren’t very many other angles available, given the layout of the room), there was a half-painted two-by-four behind the thing, and a window on the left side (almost all of the light in the picture comes from this window), which was way too close to give the piece any space.  All this to say, after an extremely painstaking selection in Photoshop (no kidding – it took me about 45 min just to make an accurate enough selection to make this convincing!), I simply put the subject against a black background.  My apologies to all of the purists out there, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do…

Sometimes, All You Have To Do Is Ask

It’s so easy to assume you’ll get a big fat “no.” As a photographer, I always assumed I’d just “get over” this fear, whether it’s keeping me from asking to make someone’s portrait on the street, or preventing me unpacking a full bag of gear in the middle of a church. Turns out you never do, or at least I haven’t yet.

But sometimes people surprise you, and that’s an important lesson.

I’ve been wanting to shoot Holy Name Cathedral since the first time I looked in the door (and, incidentally, that’s all I did the first time – I was walking through the neighborhood and opened the door to look inside as I walked by).  But I had always assumed they had fairly restrictive policies around such things.  Lots of churches, especially ones that get a lot of tourist traffic, have a blanket ban on tripods, for example.

So last week, @Ashamar dropped by my desk and asked if I wanted to walk over there and shoot later in the week.  Apparently, he had just called them up and asked how they felt about our kind.  To hear him tell it, the conversation went something like this:


Woman Who Answers Phones (WWAP): Holy Name Cathedral.

@Ashamar: Hi, I want to come take pictures in your church. I promise to make lots of noise, trip tourists with my equipment, and generally piss everyone else in the building off.  Oh yeah, and I want to bring a bunch of friends who are equally considerate of others.

WWAP: Ok, you just need to talk to Deacon Michael McCloskey about setting up a tour. Hold please.

Deacon Michael McCloskey


Michael: Hello?

@Ashamar: Hi, I want to come take pictures at your church… (etc)

Michael: Sure, come on by.  We have a mass tomorrow ending at 12:30 – how’s  12:45?

@Ashamar: Any restrictions we need to know about? Are tripods and flashes ok?

Michael: How much equipment do you have? Do you need a flat truck to get your stuff up the elevator?

The guy just couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming.  When we got there (fortunately, only two of us could make it in the end – we had originally planned a group of four roving disturbances of piety).

In the end, Deacon Michael spent an hour and a half with us, giving us a private tour of any part of the building we could think to ask to see.  We went around back to see the private chapels, offices, even the Metropolitan Cross, which is obscenely valuable and normally not left laying around for people like us to step around while we look for the best angle from which to photograph it. We were even invited to put tripods over the chair at the back of the altar where only five posteriors have been (four cardinals and a pope, for those keeping score) – though he asked us not to sit in the chair, he encouraged me to place a tripod in front of it and lean back, my irreverent keister hovering mere inches above the cushion.

He imparted upon us an immense amount of information which, if I hadn’t been snapping photographs constantly, I might even have been able to absorb.  After giving us a thorough history of the building and the Archdiocese of Chicago, he left the church to us and asked us to let the security guard know when we were leaving.

In fact, it was such a great experience, we plan to make a tour of local churches as we can sneak a few vacation hours from the office now and again.

Several of the photos I took that day are below; this set on Flickr will continue to grow as I have time to process them.

Looking East, from the Narthex

Organ and Choir Loft


A Pew, Bathed in Light from the Stained Glass

Columns of Light I

Columns of Light

Resurrection Crucifix

Resurrection Crucifix

The Amaryllis Has Bloomed

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, too.

We received an Amaryllis bulb a few years back as a gift.  It was unwrapped and watered.  And it grew. And then it bloomed.  And it almost got thrown out.  Because, if you’ve ever had an Amaryllis, you know they look pretty boring once the bloom fades and drops off.  The leaves that are left are beautiful, but it’s really a bit of a let-down after all that color.

But we’d heard that if you treat one just right, you can make them bloom year after year.  Reduce, reuse, recycle, right?  We weren’t expecting much, really.

The instructions are pretty simple.  Keep watering it until Thanksgiving.  Then take it down to the basement, stop watering entirely, and put it in the dark until New Year’s (or really any 6 – 8 weeks of your choosing, but we do it this way because it makes it easy to remember).

At the end of its “dormant” period, go down to the  basement and cut the (now dead) leaves off.  Put it in a nice, well-lit spot and water.  A few weeks later, watch the leaves come up out of the bulb.  Then a stalk.  Then… another set of blooms. And the best part? It gets better each year.

Easy as pie.  Actually, much easier – especially if you make your own crusts.

On This Photo:

Photo was shot with available daylight.  A dark background (a dark purple pillow – I didn’t have anything black handy) was placed behind the plant and the exposure was made on a sturdy tripod – 1/13 sec at f/20.  Aperture had to be very small to give sufficient depth-of-field – with a 50mm lens I could only be about 2′ away (710mm, according to the EXIF data).

Darkened the background in Photoshop, did some sharpening and very gentle curves work in Lightroom, and ran it through NoiseNinja because the smooth areas of the petals had a little bit of noise. Added just a bit of clarity to the anthers and the very middle of the bloom using an adjustment brush at about 30 or 40% flow.

It Won’t Stay Cold Forever

Spotted this on the way to work yesterday, a welcome reminder that while Spring isn’t exactly around the corner, it will come eventually.  My sincere thanks to whichever nameless Chicagoan left the rest of us this pleasant surprise.