[Today’s post is by Paul Seawright, photographer and co-author of the newly released book, Abide With Me, published by New Leaf Press. This account is from the travels of Paul and his co-author, John Parker.]

A year after John and I first visited Olney, the village where John Newton lived and worked, I returned alone to remake some of the photographs that had been marred by record-breaking rainfall the previous summer. I’m not normally a blue skies and bright colours photographer, but this commission needed a bit of that.

Too often our arrival at a new hymn site coincided with torrential rain, storms and even floods. When I landed at Birmingham Airport for the second Olney trip, it couldn’t have been raining any harder. As I drove up the motorway in my hired car, it seemed certain this was a wasted journey. I parked up behind Olney parish church and walked back toward the Rectory, Newton’s former home where he is believed to have written “Amazing Grace.”

I went through the motions of photographing the house in the rain and decided the church interior was my only option. I’d photographed Newton’s church before and I felt I was simply repeating myself, but as I set up my tripod, the sun emerged from behind a cloud casting a shaft of light through the leaded glass windows onto his pulpit, certainly more engaging than the image I’d made last time. The most interesting thing, though, only caught my eye as I was repacking my camera bag.

Tucked away in a corner, behind a screen promoting the church’s charitable work, was a small framed portrait of John Newton hanging on a stone pillar above a fire extinguisher and obscured by cleaning utensils. Maybe that was the sad reality of how people viewed church history – important enough to keep, but not very relevant, not on display.

Outside in the graveyard the rain had stopped. The sun was shining and I was able to photograph Newton’s slightly overgrown grave, pressed up against the boundary wall, overlooking the river and fields beyond. In places like Olney we take history and the preservation of it for granted. How easy it would be to pass through this beautiful village and not encounter John Newton’s story. To walk right past the rectory, shelter in the church and never notice the small plaque beneath the pulpit or see the engraved portrait hidden in the corner.

Photography helps to shape and anchor history, reveals things that have become obscured, identifies things of importance and casts light on the overlooked, whatever the weather.