Photographer Christoph Morlinghaus takes us on a grand tour of the very best Modernist religious architecture in Form/Faith.
From Eliel and Eero Saarinen’s Midwest churches to Marcel Breuer’s austere concrete to the far-out experiments of Pietro Belluschi, the series is a beautiful study of how religion has long spawned many of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
“I was always in awe of how light and a few building materials like concrete, glass and wood can evoke a spiritual feeling,” says Morlinghaus, who was drawn to the beauty of churches after experiencing the “very cathedral-like feel” of Eero Saarinen’s Terminal 5 at JFK.
The structures he documented are full of vaulted ceilings, soaring cantilevers and manipulated light, all of which are meant to enrapture believers.
But Morlinghaus, who describes himself as agnostic, says he’s not trying to sell anyone on the merits of religion. He simply wants to provide reverent and referential descriptions of the buildings.
“I try to keep my photography as distinct as I can from personal interpretations,” says the photographer, whose exposures can be as long as 45 minutes in some of the darkened cathedrals.
In all, Morlinghaus photographed 17 places of worship with his Sinar P2 8×10 large format film camera.
All but Mariendom in Neviges, Germany, are in the United States. In every case, Morlinghaus says, clergy and custodians were proud to welcome him in.
“These ecclesiastical buildings were the most accessible interiors that I ever photographed,” he says. “Rarely, have I encountered more cooperative or welcoming people.”
While photographing at the US Air Force Academy Cadet Chapel—a bustling tourist spot—the minister barred anyone from entering during Morlinghaus’ eight-minute exposure.
Of all of the houses of worship he visited, Morlinghaus’ favorite is the Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, designed by E. Fay Jones. It’s a monumental space that brings the forest into the church.
Initially, Morlinghaus was dissatisfied with his first photograph, but second and third attempts achieved an image that reflected the soul-stirring flood of light within. Morlinghaus’ image of Thorncrown (slide 10) is publicly shown here for the first time.
Form/Faith is not yet finished. Like the buildings he photographs, Morlinghaus wants the project to be grand. Plus, there’s much more religious architecture to be explored. “It’s time to continue and get the funding together,” he says.