Friday, August 5, 2011

A Monk For The Ages

Last week writer Andrew Nelson and I went out to the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, Conyers, to interview and photograph Father Luke Kot, someone I would only describe as a real gem and living legend in monastic circles. It was a week before his 100th birthday.

I arrived about 40 minutes ahead of our scheduled 10 a.m. meeting, so I could set up and scout out the historic barn, which is a central component of the monastery’s new Monastic Heritage Center.

Just a few minutes after the hour Brother Callistus, the monastery’s public relations and development coordinator, was seen approaching the barn, walking beside the 99-year-old monk. Pushing his walker, Father Luke stopped to pose for a photo and talk to a passerby he saw along the way. It was like he was walking the red carpet to the Oscars. “Come on Father Luke, come on Father Luke,” implored Brother Callistus.

As I held the door open Brother Calistus asked, “Do you know who this guy is?” Father Luke stopped in his tracks, formed a camera with his hands and said, “The photographer!” He walked to the center of the barn and sat next to Andrew for the interview. Andrew said he needed about 20 minutes, so I left so they could have their time alone. After Brother Callistus led me on my first tour of the Monastic Heritage Center, we returned to the barn for the photo session.

I decided I wanted to try three different poses within the barn’s interior and I was hoping he would be able to withstand the demands I was placing upon him. On top of that, the air condition was not on in the barn and I’m guessing the temperature must have been in the low to mid 80s. First I took some photos of him in front of a display featuring an image of the Abbey Church. It almost looks like we’re really outdoors in front of it.

From there we moved a few feet over to the front of a display with an old black and white image of three monks. There was one moment of brief laughter among all of us as we were moving from spot to the other. As Father Luke was getting up from his walker, unaware of what he was doing, Brother Callistus just instinctively grabbed the walker and moved it to the front of the black and white display. For a brief moment before Brother Callistus realized what happened, Father Luke was left standing there wondering, ‘Why did he just take my walker? Doesn’t he know I need that?’ It was an unforgettable look.

It was just further indication of what a trooper Father Luke was that day. He was so patient and so giving of himself. For the final shot I posed him in front of the monastic cowls and hats. It was also during these final series of shots that my sync cord started to malfunction and the strobe light would not fire. I had to use available light, in combination with the modeling light.

By the time we finished, nearly an hour later, I was sweating through my shirt. Brother Callistus asked if we wanted some water, but since the 99-year-old monk had made no such request or never asked to stop for a break, neither could I.

Father Luke has a great face, wonderful stories and a beautiful spirit. You can read Andrew’s story about Father Luke turning 100-years-old in the August 4 issue of The Georgia Bulletin.

Happy Birthday Father Luke and thanks for your time.

Oh, by the way, we did stop in the Abbey Gift Shop and Café on the way out and purchased two bottles of water.

Michael Alexander, Staff Photographer

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