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A homeless man's humbled, prostrated prayer inside Saint Ignatius Church in San Francisco. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

   
 
   

The Story Behind That Picture: "A Prayer for San Francisco"

By: Thorsten Overgaard. August 2, 2014

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I have noticed that I very seldom miss a chance to visit a church when I am out and about walking and taking photos in a city

A church always represents a change in mood, change of light, and very often something unusual and unexpected. As when I found a choir rehearsing in Boston. Or when I found a very rhetoric Sunday service with gospel and big arm movements in the Caribbean. And again when I found tourists all trying to capture the light coming down from the ceiling in Rome.

There is always something happening inside churches, no matter if there are few or many people. So I go to church, not to pray, but to take picures.

In San Francisco last month there were a few people praying and some interesting light I was trying to capture. As I walked around I saw an unusual sight in that a man was lying on the floor inside the door, center of the church and praying. When I walked closer I could see he was one of the many homeless. I took a couple of picture and thought it was unusual and would be good.

 

My first attempt. A praying man that is a little nuts. I didn't want to intrude on that one.
My first attempt. A praying man that is a little nuts. I didn't want to intrude on that one.

 

I walked around some more, and in the front of the church a man had sat down and started a very loud prayer. San Francisco seem to have an unlimited amount of mad people that talk loud to their own reflections in windows or to the air in front of them, scream in the streets, or as here, start not a whispering but a loud screaming prayer.

I wanted to get closer, but it wasn't really visual. The odd thing was that now four, then eight people walked over to that part of the church and sat down to be part of it. I gave up that image because there was no light and nothing really showing visually what was happening.

 

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My contact sheet from inside the church in San Francisco. I did 16 photos in 9 minutes.

 

As I was about to leave the church after 10 minutes in there, I see the homeless man is still on the floor. He is actually blocking the way out, doing movements up and down, raising a finger as if he is blaming himself or teaching the world a lesson.

I decide to take a photo from the aisle and against the light. I just have to walk 30 feet closer to him. Or as close as I can get without disturbing him. As I walk towards him, my daughter Robin follows me, and she almost dances while she talks loudly. Here comes a man with a camera and a dancing girl; and all I wanted to be was invisible!

I decide to follow the plan. I walk so close as I must to get a frame of what is essential with a 50mm.

I kneel down and frame with straight lines and wait for his body to have a position so one can actually tell what is happening. I take two photos, and then I get up, turn around and walk back the way I came from. He didn't notice us at all, it seems.

This is how a visit to yet another church gave an interesting picture. I hope I haven't ruined the story of what you see in the picture by telling the story behind it. It was a beautiful humbled and sincere prayer from a person surely in need of some guidence.

I hope his prayer makes San Francisco a better place. It needs it.

 

 



         
 

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Above: A homeless man's humbled, prostrated prayer inside Saint Ignatius Church in San Francisco. © 2014 Thorsten Overgaard. Leica M 240 with Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95.

 





 


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Thorsten Overgaard
Thorsten von Overgaard is a Danish-American multiple award-winning photographer, known for his writings about photography and Leica cameras. He travels to more than 25 countries a year, photographing and teaching workshops to photographers. Some photos are available as signed editions via galleries or online. For specific photography needs, contact Thorsten Overgaard via email.

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