I'm sure a common response to my curmudgeonly comments will be that I should be more charitable to what is, presumably, an amateur photographer sending in a snap to the Catholic Herald for which he will not even be paid. This response, however, is part of the cult of mediocrity which has done huge damage to the Church, and should be ruthlessly uprooted wherever it is found.
Naturally, small, charitable Catholic associations and impoverished parishes struggle to produce professional-looking publicity, or music; they struggle with the legal obligations imposed by data-processing, safeguarding, and employment law; they can't always answer the phone or process requests for documents as quickly as one would wish. The Latin Mass Society is in the same category. But let us not embrace a culture of incompetence, half-hardheartedness, and kindergarten artistic standards as if it were a good thing in itself. Let us at least continue the struggle against the difficulties inevitable to under-resourced organisations.
And when there is a supposedly professional, commercial institution in our midst, like the shiny new magazine-format Catholic Herald, let us hold it to decent standards. Enough of this rubbish.
As I wrote on this blog some years ago:
I think most people can tell when a parish fails to rise to great heights of artistry through sheer lack of resources. The state of the building and nature of the parishioners will tell you enough. Such a situation, where poverty is matched with zeal, has made many Catholic artists want to contribute to community life at their own cost, as an act of charity. When artistic mediocrity is matched with pile carpets, expensive sound-systems and a well-heeled congregation, then you know that it is ideological.
Here is the letter which the Catholic Herald declined to publish. In trying to be charitable, I cast the blame on the lighting in this particular case, but the fact is they should never have published the photograph I refer to.
As a keen amateur photographer of churches and the liturgy (with more than 22,000 photographs on my Flickr account), I have been looking at your series of photographs of church interiors with increasing dismay. It is not entirely the photographers’ fault. The biggest problem has been poor lighting, but the latest offering displays, at the Lady Altar of St James’ Spanish Place in London (Jan 18), blue lilies.
They might seem appropriate, but they are hardly credible.
Parish priests who would like their churches to look good in photographs would do well to consider two principles. First, please don’t over-illuminate the sanctuary—or anything else—leaving the rest of the church shrouded in darkness. Second, please don’t mix yellow lights with white lights.
It appears that the white cloak of the statue of Our Lady in the photograph you have reproduced is illuminated by a warm artificial spotlight, and the lilies are dimly lit with cool natural light: a photographer’s headache. Even worse, and entirely avoidable, are churches where yellow spotlights clash with white fluorescent lights.
The problem is not nearly so obvious to naked human eyes—as Chesterton wrote, ‘Terrible crystal more incredible /Than all the things they see’—though poorly considered church illumination does nothing for the atmosphere.
Sometimes the human eye and brain can be too clever by half. I once parked a yellow car for an evening in London, and set off home after dark in a white one. It took me some time to find it, but the number-plate was the same as mine and my key fitted the ignition. It was parked under a yellow street lamp, and where everything had a yellow tinge I was seeing ‘yellow’ as ‘white’.
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