- Photographer: Jacob Downey
- Camera/Lens: Pentax Spotmatic, 55mm f1.8
- Film: Fuji Neopan 1600 (I have no idea why I thought using 10 year expired 1600 ISO film was a good idea)
- Location: England
The Story: There’s been so much and so little that’s happened in the nearly 18 months since the pandemic turned the whole world upside down that it can be difficult to remember the days before the first lockdown.
I have the very real privilege of working at one of England’s 42 cathedrals. The day I took this photo I could feel the pandemic closing in. I spent most of the day frantically pulling events out of the calendar and answering calls asking about our situation. At the start of the week I’d agreed to look after a residentiary canon’s cats, but now with the prospect of a lockdown looming, I was desperately trying to find someone else to look after them before I started my evening shift.
There was a different atmosphere during this service. A handful of people gathered in a vast building that has stood through so much change. It has less of the usual mix of tourists and transient members, instead boasting a handful of people seeking genuine comfort and reassurance. People seemed almost reluctant to leave the comfort of the 800-year-old stone walls, and they hung around after service. I chatted with a few of them and naïvely told one woman we’d stay open as long as we could, as long we were allowed to.
After everyone had left I started my normal routine of locking the building. The last thing to do is to make sure the lights are off. This night they were playing up and some stayed on. I climbed up to the organ loft to get a better view of which lights were still on. As I was just about to leave I had my well-loved Pentax Spotmatic [more on this excellent camera here] slung over one shoulder. At the top I saw this view, a darkened cathedral, the altar bathed in light. I took a guess at the light, remembered I was using 10-year-expired high-speed film, and took one image overexposed by one stop and one underexposed one stop before the roll was used up. I went back down, left a note about the lights for the morning shift and locked up for the night.
And that was it. The next morning the national Church suspended all public services and five days later the entire country was in a lockdown that would last three months. Nearly a year and a half later that evening remains the last completely normal service I worked. I’ve been back plenty of times since, but it’s still a long way from normal.
I keep a “Top 20” of all my photos, there’s a strict one-in-one-out policy. This one is in there and I don’t see it getting bumped anytime soon. It’s not objectively the best photo I’ve ever taken, but I’ve never captured the feeling of a moment more truly than I did with this photo.
[Many thanks to Jacob for sharing his shot and story. Tell Jacob what you think of his photo in the comments below!]
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I like the dark mood this photo expresses. I really like how this Singe Shot Story idea is starting out. I sent my submission already. This reminds me that the last normal church service was the day my daughter had her baptism. A weeek later and churches would be shut down for months….we are so glad it worked out.