#35 – Ancient Churches appeal to the Masses

Notre Dame church, Poitiers, France. [Alamy image ref. B1CXKD]

Whenever I venture out to a nearby town or village for a photographic exploration, I start in the very centre where there is usually a church. Here in France, compared with the New World (the United States of America and Canada) which is a strong market for European images, there is a long history and an architectural heritage which they have some difficulty in comprehending. For example, the church across the road from where I’m typing these articles was celebrating Mass more than a thousand years ago… or half a century before William of Normandy invaded and conquered Britain in 1066. Every Sunday, during Mass, I look around to try to picture the scene a thousand years ago – not just because I can’t follow the usually lengthy lesson too easily in French, but partly to keep my eye honed for new photo angles (God forgive me if I have sinned by doing that!)

Here at the 12–13th century Notre Dame La Grande church in the centre of Poitiers, in the Vienne département of France, the main part of the building was built in the 11th century and the later façade in the 13th century. In the 15th and 16th centuries chapels were added (in the south of the choir – the biggest, the chapel of le Fou, is dateable to 1475). It was damaged during the Wars of Religion (1562-1569) when several statues on the façade were beheaded. In 1840, it was listed as an Historical Monument and restorers of the 19th century were very keen on giving it back its original purity. It was freed from the surrounding houses and shops that previously hidden it, repainted inside and the façade was strengthened. Since then, bad weather, pollution and ageing have marked it again. It became urgent to save the façade and its beautiful sculptures of which some were painted. The latest restorations (early ‘90s) have combined micro-sandblasting and laser cleaning techniques.

All of which is, for most clients, ideally shown in just a single image because most don’t want to pay for two or more shots when one will do. Yes, times have changed and photo spreads are a thing of the past for most publications unless accompanied by a lengthy article… when the guest “name” writer will command an exorbitant fee and the photographer’s image will be a budget after-thought purchase.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain because this shot was used in a Polish (where publication fees are historically very low) publication – although in this case much higher than UK national newspapers pay… being licensed for 1-year by Alamy under my “a la France” pseudo for an 1/8th-page reproduction in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run.

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