The Allure of Churches - Hannah Cooper
Ever since I can remember, churches have always fascinated me. They are traditionally associated with religious practice and well known for their historical architecture. Easy to find, they stand tall towering over other buildings. The church footprint being in the shape of a cross, they are seen as a place of worship and the embodiment of Christ. Many people, religious or secular are drawn to these buildings, why? Is it their religious connotations, historical background or their timeless structure including the intricate stained glass windows?
Stained glass windows can be found in almost every church. Only properly seen from the inside, they appear ethereal and bathe the internal structure in kaleidoscopic light. Dating back to the medieval period, when the vast majority of the British population were illiterate; biblical stories were circulated through the masses. Stained glass windows allowed a colourful visual representation of these stories to be seen and taught through the generations. However in the modern day, our relationship with stained glass windows has changed. We no longer need a visual depiction to comprehend these stories yet this pictorial art has survived and continues to be created, restored and admired.
In many churches the designs may be abstract or figurative. They may represent saints, patrons or symbolic motifs depending on the creator and their intention. In addition to depicting religious tales many of the windows are donated to churches by members of the congregation to memorialise and commemorate lost loved ones who have played a large role in the local community. They act as a means of expressing gratification and love for an individual or family.
Photographing these churches was a challenge in itself. When starting this project I sought to capture the spiritual aspects of a church, the religion that is so evident in these structures. However, I soon realised that churches are about much more than religion. With historical backgrounds dating back decades, they are a depiction of the history of the local community, providing a network of support for the local people and a place of quiet contemplation for the thoughtful. Making these factors evident in the work was the biggest challenge however other challenges included getting access to the churches and learning to use a medium format camera in addition to developing and scanning the images myself.
Stained glass windows are features that cannot be missed as they dominate, add colour and characterise a churches interior. There are no set rules or guidelines regarding the composition of the design, they are therefore unique creations and pieces of art. Many visitors, secular or religious, view a churches stained glass windows in the same way works of art are viewed in a gallery, with high expectation, curiosity and admiration. Medium Format photography is the perfect way of capturing these windows. Whilst square in format, it is a timeless medium in its nature, allowing for a slow and thoughtful approach. In addition, both the windows and the Hasselblad camera play with light and colour in similar ways, the light is able to pass through the glass or the camera’s lens resolving to create a fixed image on a blank canvas.
Words and images by Hannah Cooper
Full project can be seen - https://www.hcooperphotography.co.uk/the-allure-of-churches