Church Organ Pipes - Roy Sewall

While photographing the interior of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. several years ago, the organ pipes caught my eye. But the ceiling was covered with netting to protect people from debris that might fall from the damage caused by the 2011 earthquake; this interfered with what would have been lovely photographs of the pipes. I decided to look at some other churches’ organ pipes, although it didn’t yet register that this would become a significant photographic project.

I noticed that light in churches often enters from multiple windows, bounces around the interior space, and becomes soft and diffuse. This causes organ pipes to glow, whether they are the ones with a duller surface made primarily of lead, or the ones up front with alloys added to the lead to make them shiny. Some of the pipes were in really dark areas. Fortunately, the camera can peer into the darkness and pull out what the human eye cannot see.

I quickly came to admire the depth and breadth of the old-world craftsmanship required to build an organ. It involves aesthetics, architecture, design, cabinet-making, metal work, complex mechanical linkages, acoustic engineering, musicianship, and decades of experience. I believe the pipes are the organ’s most notable feature.

These photographs were exhibited in 2015, and additions are anticipated. The organ pipes are from churches in D.C., Baltimore, Bethesda, and Alexandria.

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