Photographing in St. Agnes Cemetery

About a month ago, I was reading Metroland and saw a notice for an open photography contest.  The contest was hosted by St. Agnes Cemetery in Albany, and the photo subject had to involve something within the cemetery itself.

But by the time I saw the contest bulletin, the deadline was only a week away.

Guess I knew where I was going to spend my Saturday.

Yep… me and the Nikon D700, along with some lenses and a tripod, were going to visit St. Agnes Cemetery.

St. Agnes is part of the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese of cemeteries, and is one of the earliest “rural” cemeteries, in which a large expanse of land was designated for religious burials.  Yes, it’s right next door to Albany Rural Cemetery, so there are plenty of resting souls right off of Broadway in Menands.

But I digress.

It was a cloudy Saturday afternoon, and I spent an hour driving through the narrow pathways at St. Agnes, looking for suitable photographic subjects.  One of the sections of the cemetery featured some above-ground masoleums, that if one looks inside through the masoleum’s glass-and-steel doors, one can see exquisite stained glass windows.  I photographed a few of the stained glass windows, then went on my way.

I had thought about shooting a panorama of a view from a slope of the cemetery, facing out toward Route 32 and the horizon, similar to that classic New Yorker cover in which you see a map of 5th Avenue, then Broadway, then New Jersey, then the west coast.  Unfortunately, there were several mourners visiting a loved one, and as much as I would have loved for them to get out of my shot, I chose instead to respect their private moments with those who have passed.

Angel at St. Agnes Cemetery.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Angel at St. Agnes Cemetery, Albany, N.Y. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I did, however, find several unique and distinctive monuments, and decided to photograph those for the contest.  One monument featured a recreation of Michelangelo’s Pieta (the statute of a fallen Christ in his mother’s arms), while another monument showed a praying baby angel, a rosary in his tiny hands.  I took several shots of each item, then ran them through a process known as HDR to combine the images and show the contrasting colors and details.  I photographed both images with my Nikon D700 camera, using a manual-focus Helios 81H wide-angle lens.

Because I couldn’t decide which photos to submit (I was limited to a maximum of two pictures), I printed out my three favorites, including a shot of one of the stained-glass windows in a family masoleum.  I took the photos with me to show my friends, and ask their opinion as to which ones they would like the most.  The first two photos to receive ten positive votes would be my submissions.

Pieta at St. Agnes Cemetery, Albany, N.Y.  Photo by Chuck Miller.
Pieta at St. Agnes Cemetery, Albany, N.Y. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Everybody I showed the photos to picked the Pieta, and nearly everyone chose the angel as well.  So it was a no-brainer.

Yesterday afternoon, the photos of all the entrants in the contest were placed on display at the Colonie Town Hall, and I went over for the reception and judging.  I was absolutely amazed at the over 300 different photographs submitted for the event, including several that also used the Pieta statue as their photographic subject.

All throughout the event, I watched as visitors walked through the display area, commenting on the photographs and writing down the indicator number of the photograph they especially liked – that person would win the “People’s Choice” award.  My photos received several repeated looks, and I did see some guests write down “87” – the number associated with my angel photo – on their slips.

Eventually, the organizers stepped up to the dais and announced the winners.

Unfortunately, your man was not one of the winners.

No disappointment, though… the photos that did win were very emotive and deserving of their ribbons, and I did find out that many of the entries, whether they won or not, will be used for other cemetery projects, including such things as fund-raising calendars, mass cards and the like.  The winning photos will be displayed on St. Agnes Cemetery’s Facebook page, if they aren’t there already.

And at least I have an idea as to what might win at next year’s contest.  And this time, I’ll have more than a week to come up with an idea.