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.
@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.