Working on the domes: ‘Take number 171’

Nov 14, 2017 | 4 comments

Three weeks ago, I noticed some scaffolding was being erected on the westernmost dome of the New Cathedral. You may have noticed that the large dome of the nearby Iglesia San Blas is also undergoing repairs. I was disappointed that it had been rapidly covered by tarpaulins prior to my having a chance to get the workmen in my viewfinder.

There’s something magical about our fellow humans who work at heights and, sometimes, that magic can be captured by photography. Consequently, when I saw the scaffolding at The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conceptions west dome, I prepared to shoot on short notice.

On the morning of November 9, I chanced to look outside my window, ninety feet above the ground, and see several workman raising more scaffolding to the upper levels of the western dome. I had a tripod already positioned in my departmento and so only needed to lock in a camera to get ready to shoot. Even though I’m pretty fast, the workers seemed to be racing me. I dispensed quickly enough with such mental nonsense and reminded myself of Ansel Adams comment about chance always favoring a prepared mind. I settled into my task.

In this case, I was seeking a decisive moment for the correct exposure and of course, there is no guarantee that one will present itself for my efforts. French Master Photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, was the person who coined the term, “decisive moment.” Suffice it to say that for my purposes it this is the moment when form and movement coincide in a manner that would tell the best possible story in the photograph. Please read what Bresson writes yourself as my words are certainly a dilution of his entire concept.

My camera and its subject matter were separated by over a 1/4 mile of air space. I was glassing the workers with some 10X50 binoculars while I worked the remote release with my other hand. This is tedious even though you are directing nothing from such a distance. Being alert to movement and form is the name of the game and so you need to be sharp and timely with your execution. I continued to fire for an hour sending a couple of hundred separate images to my memory card.

During that hour and but for a moment, the workman on the far left put his foot up for that last jump to mere air and two unsecured boards. Simultaneously, his counterparts lined up behind him forming a strong ascending diagonal line. I had again triggered the shutter. The result is exposure “Number 171” out of the 197 individual shots I made.

One story, one frame, in which the decisive moment is revealed.


Brian Buckner

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