Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA is where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his father, Reverend Martin Luther King, Sr. served as pastors. Alongside Reverend Adam Daniel Williams, Dr. King, Sr. promoted Black-owned businesses, aided their congregation in becoming homeowners, and led the fight for public accommodations for black people for more than 44 years from 1927 until 1975. Dr. King, Jr. took up the mantle as co-pastor in 1960, and his final farewell funeral was held here in 1968.
We asked Dan Smigrod, Founder and Chief Photographer of Atlanta-based We Get Around, what it was like to capture this inspiring space. The entire 3D scan took three days to complete.
With this 3D tour, you’ll be able to go behind the velvet rope to areas that are off-limits when visiting in person.
Visit the Ebenezer Baptist Church in immersive 3D
Q: What inspired the 3D capture of MLK's Ebenezer Baptist Church?
Of the hundreds of Matterport spaces that I have scanned since I bought a Matterport Pro 3D Camera in July 2014, Ebenezer Baptist Church National Historic Site is my most cherished. Five years later, I still recall the emotions that I experienced while creating this Matterport tour while listening to a recording of Congressman and civil rights leader, John Lewis, talking about the Selma to Montgomery March - now known as “Bloody Sunday”.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. played in the pews as a child listening to his father deliver his powerful sermons on Sundays. It’s also the site of his memorial service on 4 April 1968 following his assassination. This scanning experience reminded me that I was in elementary school when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech to advocate for the end of racism in the United States, and when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law.
Not everyone has the time or money to travel to Atlanta to see this important historical site. I love that the world can virtually tour it, especially now during its closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This historic site has an important message for us all.
Q: What are the “must-sees” you want visitors to explore and why?
You must stand behind the lectern where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his Sunday sermons. Then, venture up to the balcony to enjoy the view. One of the docents was visually impaired and had a guide dog that stayed in the back of the sanctuary while I did my Matterport scan (see if you can spot him).
Q: What was it like capturing such a historic and meaningful space?
I knew then – and I do now – that I was creating a very special, meaningful and historically significant Matterport digital twin.
I remember taking a photo of the vision and mission statement written by the National Park Service when dedicating the Church as a National Historical Site as a “world treasure embracing humanity in an environment that inspires peace, justice and equality…[to] preserve, protect, and interpret the places where Martin Luther King, Jr. was born, where he lived, worked, worshipped, and where he is buried, while ensuring connections are made to the life and legacy of one of the most influential Americans of the 20th century.”
Originally, I was given permission to shoot just the pews. But when the head of the National Parks in Atlanta saw that I was wearing blue shoe covers to protect the floor and saw the tour the next day, he gave me permission to Matterport the rest of the Church, including standing in front of the lectern where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his Sunday sermons.
While it typically takes less than a day for a 3D photoshoot of a three-story building like Ebenezer Baptist Church, it took me 19 hours over the course of three days to complete this scan that includes nearly 200 360-degree nearly spherical images used to create the 3D model. That’s because I could only photograph when there were no people present (because the camera “sees” 360-degrees) which is a challenge when you have a steady stream of individuals and tour groups.
While the National Park Service would have granted us permission to shoot before or after hours, we felt that being able to see the light pass through the stained glass windows was essential - an experience we could not have captured at night. Many of the visitors take pictures of the stained glass windows.
At some point, I recall that I waited as much as 45 minutes between camera rotations while a school group toured the Church.
Looking back, I am amazed that I was able to complete the three-day Matterport 3D tour without humans in any of the scans – just the guide dog for the visually impaired docent in the back of the church.
Q: What storytelling potential do you see in this technology?
Innovation often takes place at the intersection of a solution that can be used in an unexpected way than it was originally intended.
During my 19 hours in the Church, I saw many student tour groups come and go and I repeatedly heard the recording of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 's address after the Selma to Montgomery March. The most famous quote being: “How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
I noticed that nearly every group listening to these words was nearly 100 percent Black students. With the upheaval of today, it seems like the arc of the moral universe is taking longer than Dr. King may have expected.
To learn more about Ebenezer Baptist Church, please visit the National Park Service website.