Preserving a Church’s Beauty

A picture of the chancel area in the sanctuary.

We usually talk about very personal books — one describing a year in a family or a favorite vacation. This book is certainly a very personal effort. Its focus is to recognize the beauty of a church’s physical facility while acknowledging memorials established by those who felt a spiritual call to create that beauty. The First Presbyterian Church of Arkansas City, KS, will celebrate 150 years of their heritage in 2023. Tim Harmon, a lifetime member and longtime music director of the church, and other members of the worship committee wanted to honor that heritage.

The book began with an idea to get photos of the five memorial windows at the west end of the sanctuary, interview family members for short biographies of the people memorialized, and then use the church copier to print out some type of pamphlet or booklet for the church membership.

The goal of the book changed when Tim got a new iPhone and started taking pictures of the sanctuary at Christmas, in part to document how to put up the garlands. Seeing the images of the Christmas lights, Tim and others decided to expand the scope of the committee’s project from just the west end memorials to art within the entire facility. Tim became the photographer and author of the photocrafting project and book creation.

A picture of the sanctuary at Christmas time with lighted garlands along the balcony.
Sanctuary of the Arkansas City First Presbyterian Church with Christmas lights, 2019.
An Ionic column

Focusing on the art of the building started a much larger project than the five west end memorials entailed. All photocrafters know that choosing the images and deciding how to organize them is perhaps the most challenging aspect of a project. Tim decided it made sense to work through the building, starting with the sanctuary, and then work his way around the building to look for external architectural features. There are many beautiful memorials but also beautiful elements in the building itself — the columns, the dome, the pilasters. He also went through photo scrapbooks in the archive room. Tying all this together could require writing an entire history of the church, a much larger job than anyone planned to undertake, so the focus moved away from including personal stories to focusing strictly on the art.

A primary feature of the church is the rose window above the chancel installed in 1940. This balcony rose window and its dark mahogany frame are surrounded by the pattern of a cross which raises eyes upward from the mahogany background of the communion table up to vibrant shades of English and French antique stained glass. Multiple depths of detail in the photograph reveal the glass reflecting off the sides of the protruding wooden framework.

The church has kept lots of old scrapbooks so those became another source of images for the book. A wealth of archival materials enriched the present day photos so that the pictures themselves tell much about the history and certainly the heritage of the building. This adds a wonderful depth to the book.

Clockwise from upper left: The first church housing in 1873, the first church building erected in 1873, and the choir and staff circa 1940.

Much like the process for designing a holiday card, the next step after collecting photographs is to choose the app for creating the product. Tim used Apple’s iBooks Author application with the goal of making it available as an eBook — i.e. an Apple Book with a later conversion to an Amazon Kindle Book. He thought an exported PDF file could be printed with the church copier if needed for non-technology members. However, as the book developed, input from church members indicated a clear preference for having a hardback printed book (available through email (presby1@arkcitypres.org) or phone (620) 442-5700) in addition to the eBook (Amazon Kindle eBook and Apple Books.)

In designing the page layouts and formatting, Tim wanted the photographs and documents to tell the story with minimal text added only when necessary. He also wanted the ebook to be accessible on smartphones, not just on tablets and computers. Those design choices required setting specific minimum font sizes to maintain legibility without having to zoom in. A fortunate side effect is a feeling of openness in the printed books.

Tim is not a professional photographer but tackled the image challenges with imagination and thought. For example, the rose window has fluorescent backlighting, and the photograph was taken on a cloudy day with subdued natural lighting through the sanctuary windows and with the sanctuary lights turned off. Tim took advantage of features of his iPhone, including the ability to tape the phone/camera to a pole or ladder and use the Apple Watch’s Camera app to determine alignment and settings. When he couldn’t take a picture directly, he was able to use the app to crop and rotate as needed. No other photo processing was performed.

The book Tim created is a marvelous example of photocrafting! So what can we photocrafters take away from this project?

  • An inspiration for creativity: Sometimes the photos drive the project and sometimes the project drives the photos. Starting with a plan to tell a story of five memorials began the project. But additional images led to changing the focus. Projects and photos can co-evolve and morph into something else.
  • Straightforward can be good enough: Tim was quite satisfied with the images from his iPhone, the editing features on the phone, and the access to Apple iBooks Author. He was good at what he knew; he improvised when necessary; the result was beautiful.
  • A motivation not to be afraid of experimenting: Tim is not a professional photographer. Yet he didn’t let that stop him when he had to deal with light reflecting off the glass or pictures taken at an angle or images out of reach.
  • Publishing is within reach: Have something others might enjoy? Make it available!
  • Evolving projects — things change, goals change, let the photos drive the story; let the story choose the photos.

All images are copyrighted: © 2020 Tim Harmon. Our thanks to Tim for his beautiful photocrafting and for allowing us to tell a bit of the story.

One thought on “Preserving a Church’s Beauty

  1. Sara, thank you so much for featuring the book on your photocrafting blog. The congregation is so pleased with the results of this project and the book is being enjoyed by many, both current members, former members and the community at large.

    Melodie

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s