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Cars are Fun (Memphis Crazy), 3/16/11, Memphis, TN

At morning coffee in the Kenny kitchen, Philip helps me prep for my church mission by plugging in the Google found addresses into his Garmin GPS– Savannah goes to the gym.

I take their Honda and drive into the heart of Memphis, a formally dark place with crack housing and crime (now being gentrified especially with the influx of the high end medical industry [specifically St. Jude’s]).

I was warned about the drivers in Memphis, that they just do what ever they want as though rules do not apply… I find it kind of true. But it is good to drive again – I realize I have not driven a car in three weeks.

I start my day of photo exploration at St. Mary’s Episcopal. Meet John, the volunteer grounds keeper/maintenance man who does the work because he loves St. Mary’s and he love God. He likes what I am doing (the FBA) and turns on the light, shows me the auxiliary chapel, and talks a while around my questions and observations from my travels. He tells me to feel free and turn of the lights when I am done.

Many churches will naturally result in the same shots – there are always the standards just for my recording – the shot of the alter from the back of the nave is an example – purely for documentary – and served better if I carried a tripod for multiple time exposures – but this is not a commercial job… so handheld will do for me as a reminder of the architecture– but rather than enter the church and go down the shot list, I walk it, looking for signs of what the church is presenting to me… often a different theme emerges (the statuary at one, the paintings at another, the faithful at another, the clergy behind the scenes at yet another, life of a Mass, signs of neglect…I listen and look for what would keep me there longer than it takes to take the same shots I would shoot otherwise, shots that would otherwise be repetitive and redundant to the voice of the consecrated space– and a thin voice at that. This time at St. Mary’s I am absorbed by the signs of life, the human heartbeat: chairs, shoes, a bat mobile wagon, a book with pages taped together, a tossed vestment, a bicycle in the aisle. I always leave everything a I find it – in the light that is in place so that what I am seeing would be what anyone would see. Too many photographers will doctor the scene or “pose” it to make for a more interesting still life or tableau. That is not my goal here. In fact, the more as it is, it is, the more it is what I saw… and for me a truer document.

I meet the church AV man, who’s first comment to me is over my 85mm f./1.2 lens. Then I met some ladies from Mississippi, who came to see the church. My blue FBA business cards are coming in handy!

The stained glass is beautiful; outside they have shields covering them as protection from rocks and bullets. There was a time. . .

I turn off the sanctuary lights, get back in the car, and head downtown to St. Mary’s Catholic church, one of the downtown historic churches. I am allowed to park in their reserved parking but asked to come back after meetings (about 30 minutes).

I walk a couple blocks to St. Peter’s (Catholic also) and ring the bell. I am given access and the lights are turned on for me. Really grateful for my blessings and the freedom I am given in these spaces.  The theme continues, and now a few extra interests in the periphery of the nave, the stairs to the choir and the bell rope… I am given free reign and respectfully take my time.

On the way out, I stop and talk with Father Thomas and Beth Mitchell

St. Peter – Dir. of Communications. Father Thomas directs me to Cavalry (Episcopal, and tells me to tell them he sent me).

At Calvary, the oldest continually used building in Memphis, I am again given reign, the lights are turned on. I am not there long, it is a simple church, but the alter has beautiful art and some of the stained windows are Tiffany windows. I am told that Calvary is the only church open all day welcoming people to come in to pray

From there I walk back to St. Mary’s Catholic church and talk with Father Eric, who turns on the lights for me and says, “have at it.” I only have an hour as Mass will soon begin.

Windows here are also covered on the outside (and they were at St. Peters and Calvary too) – coveed with a protective material that is also translucent.

All in all, a good 6 hour day reaping some good photos (I hope… I never know until I get them on the computer screen

Meet Philip and Savannah to go to Corky’s for dinner with Josh and his wife (both pianists) and their two kids. Corky’s has won best BBQ in Memphis 13 times. Portions are not as big as some, but the food is good – I am ribbed out now, having tried dry rub ribs in Memphis, smoked in Nashville, and a wet rack in Chicago….I think it is time to eat lean for the rest of this trip.

Back at the Kenny’s house, we try downloading the newest Harry Potter… but the download is too slow.

I am falling asleep. They also have a sleepy couch like at Jack’s (the kind that ‘comfies’ one into a dozing bliss). I pull myself from its spell and go upstairs to transfer the images of the day onto my laptop. Check my email and find this invite from Beth (St. Peter’s).

“Hi, Jeff–

WOW–

Your photography of consecrated spaces is just so beautifully rich and inspiring.

Thank you for stopping by St. Peter today and sharing your story with us. You have traveled the world; I am wondering now, what brought you to Memphis, TN, of all places?

Stop back by this evening for our Celtic Prayer Service and simple supper followed by the movie “Get Low” with Robert Duvall and Bill Murray. A great story for Lent about conversion.

Best of luck to you in your travels.”

Wouldn’t it be something if this is how a church served as a community center (a spiritual center), all the time? I am fed more ideas for my writing on the FBA.

A full day.

Four more churches tomorrow . . .

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