Award-winning photographer Larry Easton says that capturing images of some of Saskatchewan's historic places of worship “took five years and 50,000 kilometres to complete,” and resulted in 'Legacy of Worship', a recently-released coffee-table book by Easton, writer Margaret Hryniuk, and archivist Frank Korvemaker.
'Legacy of Worship' profiles over 60 rural churches, representing 15 denominations.
The book is a follow-up to 'Legacy of Stone', which features many of the province's historic stone buildings, also with images by Easton, who now lives in Regina and is an accomplished landscape and architectural photographer.
“The first one took us three years to do,” says Easton. “This book took five years. I already had some pictures to work with-especially from Cannington Manor- and of course, I went out and got more, once we decided to do this book. The two writers also had ideas and a list. I put pictures on an external hard drive and we went through all of the pictures individually and we also sat down as a trio.”
“A lot of the photos start out as reconnaisance. You shoot the outside and then later, when you decide to include that building in the book, you go back to get the inside, and in most cases, someone usually has to let you in.”
“It's a picture-heavy book. Most of the pictures are colour, but it also features archival pictures. I took the pictures throughout the seasons, including winter,” says Easton. “We wanted to show all seasons in both of the books, but in some cases, winter was the best time to photograph a building, simply because the foliage would block or shade the view of the church itself.”
Easton says that many of Saskatchewan's historic churches display the work of both professional artists and architects as well as local artists and craftspeople. “Many churches are struggling to survive and some, unfortunately, are abandoned or are in ruins.”
“One of the reasons membership has declined is because of larger farms,” he says. “There are fewer families farming larger farms, so there isn't always the population to support rural and small urban churches. Migration to large urban centres is also a factor,” he says.
“I photographed the cemetery near where I grew up. There's no church there now, just a cemetery and a plaque. The community was Highview, west of Wawota. I've included a colour photograph that my mother, Leah Easton, took of the church there.”
Easton says his favourite church to photograph is Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Stanley Mission, the oldest known, exsiting building in Saskatchewan. Constructed between 1854 and 1860, the church is located in the northern Saskatchewan community of Stanley Mission, on the banks of the Churchill River.
“It used to be a fly-in only community,” says Easton. “I've been there on canoe trips, and I've photographed it over the years. One of the first pictures I took of it was from the air, when our family flew in. The church is on the banks of the Churchill River, north of LaRonge, and across from the town of Stanley Mission. Although there is a road into the town now, to get to the church, you still have to canoe or kayak there.”
“Although I've photographed it before, I wanted to capture the fall colours for the pictures in this book,” says Easton. “I contacted a guy up there and asked him to let me know when the fall colours were coming on. I went up there and there were perfect fall colours.”
“The day I went to photograph the church, I got pictures of the outside, but there was a wedding going on inside, so I had to wait in the boat outside until the ceremony was finished. Things were running a bit late, and I was worried about losing the late afternoon light, which I wanted. Luckily, by 4 p.m., the guide and I were able to go inside and clear up the confetti, so I could photograph the interior of the church. I got the pictures I wanted, the fall colours, and the late afternoon light.”
Easton's devotion to capturing the perfect picture extends to this book, as he explains the process of choosing the cover picture for 'Legacy of Worship.'
“The picture we chose for the cover was taken south of Assiniboia, in the Rockglen area,” he says. “It's a Lutheran church, but that's not why we chose it. I just looked at the landscape, the church and the image and thought: 'That's the quintessential prairie church.'”
“With our books, we want to create a legacy of buildings in the province that in some cases, are disappearing: elevators, rural schools, churches and stone buildings. We want to preserve this part of our province's history.”
'Legacy of Worship' ($39.95) is published by Coteau Books, Regina and is available to order at www.coteaubooks.com.