Religious revival meetings. Big tent meetings. Prayer meetings.
They always intrigued me because I grew up in a place where they were never held. At least I don’t think so. Even though I was born on the East Coast, I grew up in Southern California. I earned my undergraduate degree in Northern California. As I know it, there was no such thing as revival meetings there. To me, at the time, they were a distinctly southern or midwestern thing.
I wanted to see one.
I wanted to photograph one.
I didn’t get around to it for most of my time in Virginia. But, after the shopper — “The Picture” — began publishing on a weekly basis, I realized I had a lot of space to fill. Remember the “Welder” picture? That publication.
Somehow I found out that a “tent revival meeting” was coming to a little town called Dublin. No. Not in Ireland. Roughly half way between Radford and Pulaski. In Virginia. I called the organizers and asked for permission and they said okay.
It good time in the country and it was a good place to work. They trusted me and gave me permission and I respected them. Done and done. Today, there would be all sorts of legal documents to fill out. Contracts. Releases. Forms. I would spend 80% of my time taking care of that. The other 20% of my time? Oh, it might be used for actually taking pictures.
I worked there for a couple of nights. This was the main picture in the crossover spread.
Technically, it ain’t great. I was pushing Tri-X film to ISO 1600. Pushing is a technique that is underexposing film by a couple of f stops while you are shooting, and then overdeveloping it to bring back the details. It gives you more working shutter speed. But the shadows get a little muddy and the highlights are usually blown out. It worked fine for subjects like high school night football.
Subjects like a revival need a little more nuance. Unless we wanted to light it, this is the best we could do. At the time. In 1980. But, with subjects like this, we likely couldn’t light it. The idea was to blend in, not cause a distraction. Of course, you can’t really blend in. The minute you raise a camera to your face, guess what? You’re a distraction. That is true, even today. You may be able to turn your digital camera’s ISO way up. Maybe produce a better quality image. But, the minute you raise the camera, you are still distraction. There is no changing that. You influence the subjects, who in turn influence the final picture.