Cathedral of Saint Paul: Reflections on the First Year

“Cathedral of St. Paul” – St. Paul, MN

It has been a year now since I started this project. In late-2011, I went to the Cathedral of Saint Paul, MN (colloquially called the St. Paul Cathedral) looking for some inspiration. I had a new camera (the Fuji X100) to try out and the weather was crap. Indoors suited me just fine. I am not religious at all, and so the building held no spiritual sway for me; I went looking for some photographic inspiration.

What I found has been surprising, in many ways.

I have gone back to the cathedral on several occasions, probably 10-12 times throughout the year. I have deliberately gone at different times of the day, on different days of the week, trying to vary my visits so that I don’t fall into a discernible pattern. I want to explore the cathedral and its inhabitants as fully as possible. My appreciation for the site has grown over time.

“Reflection” – Saint Paul, MN

When I began, I had no knowledge of anyone else’s shots of the site, but I have spoken with people and looked at images online of the cathedral, and determined that it is over-shot. It’s become trite and cliché to shoot the cathedral. I kept going nonetheless. Most importantly, I made my own images. Now, any photographer sees the world in their own way. We all come to the game with our own background and preconceptions and interests and goals and…you get the idea. There is no way we could all see things the same. I don’t think I am any different in this respect.

However, I do know that I see things in a certain way. Having shot a lot over the past half-decade that I have been serious about photography, I have a certain style and way of seeing the world that is all my own. Some like it, some don’t I’m sure. I have my own influences of photographers that I like, and those have changed over time and will surely change again. At the moment, I’d say I’m most influenced by Martin Parr, Garry Winogrand, and Lee Friedlander; not all of their work, but most of it (frankly, Friedlander’s work over the past few years has been disappointing, and Parr has struck out on a few projects over the years, but you get my point). If you haven’t checked these guys out, you should. In fact, if you are a photographer in any sense, you should be looking at the work of others, both classic and contemporary. For example, I love the work of Nick Turpin–but I can’t quite see the world in the same way he does. Other people love Bruce Gilden’s style–I don’t, but many do.

“Walking” – Saint Paul, MN

But, I digress.

My own style of shooting mirrors my personality to a large part, and I have written on that before. I think all of us put ourselves into our work and our art. That is natural. Bruce Gilden shoots the way he does because that’s his personality, much like Joel Meyerowitz or anyone else. That’s not my personality, and not how or what I shoot. To each his own. I reached a point where I thought I was done with the project–and maybe I am. But maybe I’m not.

I had my old photography teacher go over my prints and critique it for me. She pointed out a few things that are really helpful. Some are technical issues (dodging and burning, etc) others have to do with the idea of the project, others are editing issues. Her input was incredibly helpful and made me see that perhaps I am not done with this. There are strengths to the shots I have collected, and if I focus on those strengths a bit more I think that I will have a project that is fully formed and well done.

“Library Room” – Saint Paul, MN

Tomorrow I’ll talk a bit more about this project and include some more images. I’d love to hear what you think from the first part!




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