Speaking of Churches

While I was writing yesterday’s post on Carrollton’s churches, I came across a review of a book about Mississippi churches that I keep close at hand as a reference, Historic Churches of Mississippi. Published by University Press of Mississippi in 2007, the book is the second collaboration of photographer Sherry Pace with architectural historian Richard Cawthon. Their first book Victorian Houses of Mississippi came out in 2005, just after Katrina, and the photos of the Gulf Coast houses are a reminder of the terrible loss of stunningly beautiful historic buildings on the Coast.

The site on which I found the review, New Jersey Churchscape, is interesting in its own right and loaded with information about New Jersey churches, living and dead. In addition, the site author Frank L. Greenagel, posts reviews of books covering a broad range of topics that all at least tangentially touch on historic churches. Of particular interest to us though is this review of Historic Churches of Mississippi, where he not only discusses the book’s merits but also gives us Mississippians some good perspective on our own churches compared to church buildings in other states.

Greenagel singles out the introductory text, written by Richard Cawthon, former Chief Architectural Historian at MDAH, for praise:

The essay that opens the book—a survey of Mississippi’s religious architecture from 1820 to the 1930s—is exceptionally well-informed and judicious. Cawthon, who was the chief architectural historian at the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, draws concise observations and generalizations about the traditions and plans of the major periods. I will probably plagiarize some of his particularly apt phraseology where it fits New Jersey churches in my own books.

One pet peeve Greenagel notes is that all utility poles, electrical lines, etc. have been removed from the photos. I don’t have strong feelings about that, but I did miss interior photos as I think that the true heart of a church building is on the interior.

Another thing I especially noticed in the churches book was the lack of perspective correction in the photos, which is one of my pet peeves about architectural photography. Perspective correction means ensuring that the walls or other vertical elements of the building are in fact vertical and not skewed and running into each other. Perspective correction can naturally take place if the photographer is able to stand far enough away from the building to get the whole building while having the camera perfectly level. If you can’t do that (and you normally can’t), you used to have to own an expensive lens that would do it for you. Nowadays, with the wonders of digital photography, you can accomplish much the same effect with Photoshop Elements for $99.

When seen side-by-side, the difference is obvious. Below on the left is a non-perspective-corrected shot of the McWilliams Building in Clarksdale–I had to point the camera up to get the top of the building in, but in doing so, I made the front facade seem to be leaning backward. On the right is the same photo after I put it through a little magic routine in Photoshop. It isn’t perfect, but the building doesn’t look like it’s about to topple over, and its verticality has been re-established.

McWilliamsBuilding McWilliams Building-pc

Is this petty? Of course, that’s why it’s called a pet peeve! But I guarantee you that now that you know about perspective correction, you’ll start noticing when it’s not present in architectural photography. And when you do, it’ll start to drive you as crazy as I already am.

Well I’ve wandered far afield today I see. Back to the original subject, if you have a love for Mississippi’s architecture or architecture in general, these two books should be on your bookshelf. And as a bonus, they may help you in the next Name That Place contest, which I think might be coming back for an encore soon.

Categories: Architectural Research, Books, Churches, Historic Preservation

4 replies

  1. What evil spirits have come to visit the McWilliams Building? That top floor is a travesty… I hope this one can be rescued.


  2. Lol, I always assumed it was a horrible addition too, until I saw this postcard image in the Cooper Postcard Collection http://mdah.state.ms.us/arrec/digital_archives/cooper/index.php?itemno=1801

    The problem isn’t the top floor, it’s that the pent roof below it has been removed and almost all of the windows in the upper floor stuccoed over (or something). I think it could be beautiful again, if someone had the money and vision to undertake it. Why are those always the two big ifs?

    Even still, it is a little strange-looking, and I say that with pure love and affection for the building.


  3. Interesting. It would be quite a landmark if restored properly.



  1. Lost Churches of Mississippi in bookstores | Preservation in Mississippi

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