Photographer has an eye for churches with a story

Ottawa photographer Mark Schacter is working on a book of photographs of North America worship houses with a story.


Ottawa photographer Mark Schacter is working on a book of photographs of North America worship houses with a story.

July 2, 2012

When Ottawa-based photographer Mark Schacter realized he had amassed an extensive collection of church photographs, he was a bit surprised.

Schacter will be spending the next year building on his library of church photos, following in the footsteps of some of the great photographers of our day, from Ansel Adams to James Nachtwey.

Schacter is adding more churches, as well as synagogues, mosques, gudwaras and temples, for his Houses of Worship project - a book to be published in 2013. The book of photos and essays will concentrate on architecture inspired by faith in Canada and the United States.

"Even though I'm not religious, I can appreciate the power of faith and the power of the symbols that go along with it," Schacter said.

The 54-year-old Schacter grew up in a Jewish home in Thunder Bay, Ont., a home with an ambiguous relationship with religion. He describes his mother as an atheist and his father as a man more moved by ritual than theology. Friday synagogue attendance and blessings at meals were important to Schacter's dad, but maintaining a kosher kitchen and extensive Torah study were not on.

Schacter drifted away from religion as he entered adult life, but as a photographer he never misses an opportunity to shoot a church.

The churches in his portfolio aren't necessarily the most impressive examples of soaring, sublime and spiritual architecture. There are roadside chapels, strip-mall outposts of Evangelical and Pentecostal Protestantism and rural, clapboard churches that are perhaps abandoned.

"One of the things that's always on my mind is that it's about humans who make a lot of effort to build things. We build buildings. We build families. We build careers.

"Consciously, it's an effort to try to make a mark, to create something, to leave something because we're transient. We don't last very long," he said.

He appreciates that each of the houses of worship he photographs represents the best, noblest and most heroic efforts of a community. There's a story embedded in every church. The photographer's job is to lead the viewer to the story.

Schacter is looking for suggestions. He wants people to send him to their house of worship to see what he and his camera can make of it. Given travel and schedules, he won't get to every one. But his first efforts will go into those that are a little different.

To make a suggestion, write to Schacter at To see more of his photographs, visit