August 02, 2005

A Return to St John's Church

In the fall of 2001, on Halloween night, a tragic fire struck in the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, totally gutting the second oldest Anglican Church in Canada. Several days after the fire, I'd visited the church to photograph the destruction, making a record of the devastation in hopes that it would someday be returned to its former glory, and that the images of the burnt building would be of interest historically.
Digital original
After finishing up at Gold River, the plan had been to journey to the coast for a second session, but the rain had finally arrived, so that option was out. Being so close to Lunenburg, however, we decided to take a look at the recently re-opened church, to see how the restored building looked. The first view through the doors was awe-inspiring. What I had last seen as a charred, broken mess covered by haphazard blue tarps and reeking of creosote and soot was warm and golden, a cozy, intimate space where before there had only been charred wood and many dense inches of ash underfoot.
Digital original
I cannot begin to understand the labour or love which went into the reconstruction of this beautiful building. Someday, I hope to have the time, permission and resources to return to the church and recreate the same images I made during my first visit. I think the juxtaposition of the devastation and restoration would be inspiring (both visually and spiritually, as resurrection is such a major theme in Christianity, and this is nothing if not a stunning example of that transformative process).
Digital original
The only frustration of this visit was the lack of time. We arrived literally minutes before the church was closed for the day and I only had the chance to walk through the church and take perhaps a dozen images (all without a tripod) before we had to leave, so they could close for the day. On another date, with more time, and permission to use a tripod, the results would be much more refined.

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