Photography in a Haunted Churchyard?
Updated: Aug 19
Cornwall, whilst more than blessed with a fantastically beautiful coastline, wild moorland scenery and picture-postcard ports is rather less blessed with historic buildings, ruined castles and atmospheric Churches. But they are there and you just need to look for them. One such hidden gem is St. Day Old Church. This building which was consecrated in 1828 was built on the back of the mining boom that was then sweeping the county as the Industrial Revolution demanded more and more raw materials. That was 1828, but fast forward to the mid-twentieth century and the mining boom was long gone and the Church which had a capacity of 1,500 in it's heyday had fallen into disuse. A combination of structural issues and later vandalism rendered the Church roofless and the dwindling Congregation transferred their worship to the Hall over the road which to this day continues to be the Parish Church. The Church, a Grade II listed building then stood empty for years being further desecrated and in danger of collapse altogether. However salvation was on the horizon and an Appeal Committee was formed to save the building in 1988. Initially, the Trevithick Trust was involved, but all the subsequent renovations and work were carried out under the auspices of St Day Old Church Community Interest Company. It was they who took over the Church Lease from the Diocese and work was begun to rescue the building. Finally in 2019 and 2020 this work was completed and the building has become the venue for a Community project that supports the Arts and local events.
In my view, there is nothing more romantic than an abandoned Churchyard with it's air of Melancholy and this place has been a favourite for some time as you can see from looking at the image below.
Today, the Church looks largely the same from outside, although inside a lot has changed. I'll touch on that later, but my plan on the day was to try and capture the melancholy atmosphere of the Victorian Churchyard with it's memorials and prominent Gothic headstones using my Bronica ETRS loaded with grainy Fomapan film. This film is noted for it's prominent grain structure, although the final results would not be as grainy as the image above due in part to the larger negative, but also the uncoated pre-war Summar lens of the Leica which gives this image those soft diffused highlights often called the Leica 'Glow'. Back to the present and the weather on the 6th of July 2021 was mixed with showers forecast which I was hoping would lead to interesting cloudscapes. As it happens, by the time I got round to shooting the clouds had merged and rain was in the air. But that didn't hinder me and the long grass of the Churchyard blowing in the breeze seemed to fit the mood, cloaking the headstones and memorials in an ethereal mist of waving plumes. I found my compositions and began to realise them whilst at the same time capturing the process on video. This was the first time that I have done this in full complete with B-Roll and talking to camera which to be honest is quite a lot to do whilst simultaneously focussing on pictures with the Bronica on film. That part mostly went well, although I need to reduce the noise levels by using a microphone. However, whilst setting up my second composition I heard an ominous 'click' and the film back momentarily opened revealing the contents within. Disaster! OR... was it Deus ex Machina? I don't know, but with my heart in my mouth, I hurriedly shut the back and tried to steady my breathing. Was the film ruined? Should I pack up and go home? No I decided I would carry on and was so glad I did. Once the film was developed, my favourite image was the one which had a light leak. This had altered the quality of the image into a soft and dreamy one that almost looked as if a shaft of light was shining on the headstone in the foreground, whilst the Gothic architecture of the Church itself loomed over the scene. Truly Deus Ex Machina, but in my favour. Anyway, enough romanticising, here are the images for you to decide yourself whether they have any merit or not.
I hope you enjoyed the images above and if you did, why not view my YouTube Vlog which you can do by clicking on the Teaser image above, or on this link: https://youtu.be/1nfKgB59GYU
So far what I've described is my perspective which put simply is from a photographer seeking to describe the world in a way which is pleasing to me. I guess that all these images have some distance from reality and although that is intentional, I do not want to stray too far into the realms of fantasy. So, let me put the record straight. This Church once again has a purpose and that purpose is in serving it's local community via education and the promotion of the arts. Click on this link: https://www.stdayoldchurch.org for all the info and or this for the Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/stdayoldchurch