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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

On Seeing and Remembering: Some Theological Reflections on Photography

I want in this paper to reflect aloud on photography and its theological dimension. I am conscious that I am doing this in a city that can claim to be the cradle of the photographic image in the UK. It was here in St Andrews that pioneering photographers such as Robert Chambers, and John and Robert Adamson perfected what was first called the calotype in the 1840s. They used it to document the life of this city, its ancient buildings, its rich and its poor, its geology and its landscapes. St Andrews was the first city in the world to be systematically recorded through photography. Both natural and social science as well as the arts and humanities were quick to appropriate the photographic lens as a vital recording and analytic tool to complement the ever more exacting role it was already playing in the microscope and the telescope.

So light and lens played a key part in this late flowering of the Scottish Enlightenment in the mid-19th century. This is the theme of an engaging book[1] by Robert Crawford, Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at St Andrews that charts the work of those early photographers. He suggests that there was something about this place that was conducive to photography. Its ruined medieval buildings that spoke so eloquently about the history of Scotland, its dramatic shore-line rich in evidences of ancient geology and palaeontology, its beautiful hinterland, civic pride and civic decay. These were the immovable givens that created a fitting context for the new science. But there was also the life of the city itself which was compact enough to embrace within a small space the extremes of privilege and poverty, the contrasting lives of academics and artisans, portraits of the great, the good, the scoundrel and the plain ordinary. And to catalyse all this intellectually, there was the ancient University itself, together with a newly founded Lit and Phil, always the symbol of a thriving intelligentsia in a decent Victorian town.
But Crawford’s book also charts the rise of a photographic aesthetic, the debt early photography owed to painting and engraving, and the ways in which photography was breaking out of old artistic traditions to create new ones. The pioneers were perhaps not always aware that they were embarking on a new kind of journey, and that today we would be as interested in their photography as an activity and an art as we are in their product, those marvellous and invaluable documentary photographs so many of which survive. Crawford references theorists such as Barthes, Sontag and Berger to explore the work of the pioneers and its influence in the history of photography. Of that history, you and I and everyone else who decides to take a photograph is a part. We should not underestimate how 19th century ways of seeing the world have coloured, mostly unconsciously, our view not only of what a ‘photograph’ should be, but what the world itself looks like.

I emphasised the phrase anyone else who decides to take a photograph.  I did this because I want to discuss photography as willed and intentional: a decision, not simply an activity. The vast majority of photos taken these days are either snapshots or illustrative documentary images. I don’t want to decry the role of either, even when I suspect that the behaviour of tourists with cameras at historic sites or on the beach is as much a kind of expected ritual as it is the need to record something and memorialise it. When I first visited the Holy Land, I was the only person among eighty who did not bring a camera with me. In those days, I had no interest in photography. When someone asked me why I hadn’t brought one and wasn’t conforming to the expected ritual behaviour, I said, a trifle pompously, that I preferred to write a journal of my experiences instead. I still have it, and it has served me well, though as I now read it I can already see hints of the photographic perspective I would have brought to what I saw and experienced. I remembered this when I wrote my book on the Christian heritage of North East England[2]. I did most of the photography myself, and found that the task of weaving text and images into an intelligent whole was both fascinating and demanding. It was much more complex than simply asking whether the written text should lead the images or the images the writing; for both are ‘texts’ in their own right. And although I did not make anything of it in what I wrote, I am aware that what the book called for was an intelligent inter-textual approach.  
So my love-affair with the camera, or rather, not with the camera but with photography, does not go back more than a decade. You may say that this hardly qualifies me to speak or write about it. However, when later life with its hard-won capacity for reflection brings with it some new discovery, the comparative rarity of that experience does seem to make it worth pondering, particularly for theologians whose business it is to ponder. So let me try to do this aloud.

Like the Victorian pioneers here at St Andrews, I owe this new-found opening to a particular place: Durham. Like St Andrews, it too is a compact and photogenic city that offers endless possibilities for photographers. The Cathedral and castle perched on their rocky acropolis with the river flowing round the peninsula, the narrow medieval streets, the liveliness of a university, commercial and once industrial environment, the landscapes of the North Pennines and the coast all contribute to Durham’s sense of place. Most of what I have learned about photography I have learned there.
But in reflecting on the past decade, I am aware that it is not simply the product of photography that intrigues me –using the technology, setting aperture, white balance, ISO, photo-shopping and so on. These are the themes of countless manuals and text books and they can only take you so far. It is the verbs – what a photographer is doing with his or her camera, what the vision is, what the personal perspective, why, how he or she composes the image, what meanings resides both in the image and the activity of creating it and how they are elicited. This to me makes photography important as a metaphor of so much else, not simply in human life but in the realms of the theological and spiritual as well. And while I don’t claim any great merit for my own photography, I can at least speak about them out of the experience of having created them myself, and in the case of those that have especially intrigued me, gone on to think about the meanings I associate to them. I want to do this by using a handful of theological ideas that I hope may help us to explore some of these, to me, central verbs of photography.

Let me begin with the idea is disclosure. It is a commonplace to speak about visual art as disclosure, yet in the case of photography, the resonances are particularly suggestive. This is because the essence of photography lies entirely in the character of light and how the human eye responds to it. Those two things cannot be separated, for at its heart, photography is about a new way of seeing or, if you like, an opening of the ‘doors of perception’ as William Blake put it. To the pioneers, photography was a revelation of things not seen before, of a world apprehended in entirely new ways, whether it was landscape, architecture, geomorphology, botany or human life. The camera, therefore, soon began to be understood not as an unwelcome, obscuring technology that intruded itself between observer and the observed, but as an extension of the eye itself, as organically related to the human body as the painter’s brushes or the musician’s violin. 

Photography sometimes plays on this aspect of its own art in self-referential films and images. I am thinking of the film Blow Up, where a photographer enlarges a routine image only to discover that he has unwittingly captured a murder on film. I have had this experience once or twice. One of my earliest images I have kept is a night-time scene in Durham city-centre. There used to be a famous block of eight red telephone boxes in the market place. In urban settings at night, there is nothing so forlorn, sinister even, as an empty telephone box. With my daughter’s cast-off compact camera that I used in those days, I photographed the empty scene under the harsh yellow glare of the sodium lamps. When I examined the image, I found that the square was not empty at all. There was a young man standing by the telephone boxes watching me at work. At once, the image took on quite a different meaning from the intended one because it now suggested a narrative. Was he waiting for a call? Or was he about to make one? If so, was it a lover, or maybe a crime in the planning, or perhaps (because there is no limit to what the imagination is capable of in the small hours) he was even stalking me, so intense was his stare. It was my first experience of an objet trouvé, an unwitting disclosure within the image that can completely change the way it is read and even subvert it entirely.

We know how pervasive images of light and perception are in the discourse of religion. Ideas like revelation, enlightenment, epiphany, illumination and eikon are among the most common in the language of faith especially in connection with the Incarnation. The Fourth Gospel, to take only one biblical text, begins, in an echo of Genesis, with the proclamation of the light that shines in the darkness, which the darkness cannot extinguish. Jesus proclaims himself to be the Light of the World. A central narrative concerns the healing of a man born blind who joyfully greets a world he can now see. And if later mystical theologians suggested that the truth of spiritual experience was more rich and complex, more chiaroscuro than a straightforward linear movement from darkness to light, the metaphor still remains firmly in the arena of visual perception. For the Greek church in particular, no doubt influenced by neo-Platonism, the idea of photismos, illumination, was a central word in the vocabulary of baptism and the spiritual path.
This is where photography seems particularly well placed to offer theological and spiritual commentary on the faith tradition.  Precisely because the camera is an extension of the eye, attention is focused not only what the photographer sees and decides is worth recording, but also on how he or she does this. That is to say, it is fundamentally responsive to what is ‘there’. To me, photography only becomes an art when it finds its own authentic language, its ‘word’ that says ‘let there be light’ through the camera lens and let light do its creative work on film or digital sensor or in the light box. It becomes a form of speech that responds to whatever it encounters through both eye and lens and the decision of the photographer that here is something worth seeing. Zola said, with all the confidence of his century’s belief in the power of technology, that ‘seeing means having photographed it’; that is to say, we only truly ‘see’ when we make the choice to ‘focus’ (a suggestive word) on something in particular rather than everything in general – which in practice means nothing at all. The decision to place a frame round a small sector of reality, is not simply a description of photography but of any truly authentic act of seeing. David Brown quotes Browning’s ‘Fra Lippi Lippi’ to make the point:

            For don’t you mark? We’re made so that we love
            First when we see them painted, things we have passed
            Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
            And so they are better, painted – better to us,
            Which is the same thing. Art was given for that.
Framing is central to the photographic project. Early photographers influenced by surrealism found that juxtaposing random objects or points of focus in an image and placing a frame round them established unexpected connections in the mind of the photographer. As in theatre and film, the photographic mise-en-scène is what created meaning, even the apparently pointless, not to say meaningless. We could say that photography pioneered essentially postmodern readings of the world in which the frame created endless possibilities of bricolage. The act of framing is perhaps an interesting analogy of how religion might understand providence. In the baffling cosmos inhabited, for example, by wisdom writers like Job and Qoheleth, where theodicy cannot work because no laws seem to govern change and chance, the only way to elicit meaning out of existence is to put a frame round a part of it and reflect on the connections that emerge. This is the subjective judgment of faith, not the objective act of description. Within that frame, a tiny fragment of chaos might appear after all to be susceptible of being ordered in the eye and mind of the beholder. This approach to the ordinary in all its incoherence and perplexity is well embedded in mainstream ‘art’ photography where even the detritus of human life or civilisation frequently constitute the content of an image that makes us look at them in a new way.  This is, I think, close to what David Brown calls ‘enchantment’ in his essay on the discernment of the divine in both the natural and cultural contexts.[5]  For him, the religious quest is not restricted to revealed religion or ecclesial liturgy but often finds its most fruitful expressions in the experience of the ‘ordinary’ in ways that not only ‘make connections’ but engender a new vision or way of seeing.

I think this is what Leonardo da Vinci meant when he said of painting: ‘where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art’. Spirit could mean the human spirit or the Spirit of God. I like to think it means both, that is, the action of God’s Spirit within the human person in the way Paul speaks about when he says that the Spirit within us echoes the pangs and prayers of a created order longing for freedom[6]. We could say that it is an act of recognition: the Spirit within recognising the Spirit without. When, so to speak, the circuit is complete, there is not only recognition and prayer but art. So it is a profoundly theological statement about the character of art that links creativity and interpretation to the responsive, recognising soul of a person or community.  That reality will not be all light or all dark – if it were, there would be no photographic image. It is in the infinitely complex lands in between, in the interplay of light and shadow, life’s greyscales if you like, where life is lived and the creation waits for us to respond to both its beauty and its pain. It is when the photographer understands what he or she is trying to do, and has some sense of why, and sufficient understanding of the art, the craft and whatever technology is serving them, that real disclosure happens. A photograph becomes (to use a suggestive word) not simply a picture but an icon, an ‘image’ that marries the subject to one person’s perception of and response to it. What is more, like an orthodox icon, the image is not only ‘written’ by the photographer as a responsive act, but also draws the observer into itself to experience its life from within.
Here, there are decisions to be made about the photographer’s intent. I am not talking about how an image is composed in the viewfinder (I take it that because photography is about the eye and how it sees, the viewfinder is a required necessity. The LCD ‘live-view’ is only for use in awkward positions where the viewfinder is inaccessible. But it is almost impossible to find a decent compact camera these days that has one. It’s a sign that mass photography in the digital age when even the camera itself is under threat from mobile devices has all but abandoned the idea of seeing).  Before that, he or she has to decide what the intent of the photograph is to be. Take landscapes. When you live in the kingdom of Fife, or in North East England, it is impossible to resist the allure of photographing coast, countryside and natural or human heritage. You set out to create an image that is ‘beautiful’, awe-inspiring or as the immediate forebears of the first photographers would have said, picturesque or sublime. Images like these are the staple of picture books, calendars and post cards. They are colourful, pretty, easy on the eye, and post-production editing will remove any blemishes and perfect the subject. But such images, even when taken by the best of professional photographers, often seem to have a conventional, stylised quality about them; they lack vitality, fall into cliché. This is the problem with the view of Durham Cathedral from the bridge, as it is of many great landscape features and buildings. The question is, how can the familiar become a true disclosure, invite us to see in a different way, open the doors of perception, challenge us to a new vision? Or to use another theological image, how can a photograph transfigure our view of the world, invite us into a more contemplative way not only of perceiving a landscape but even of inhabiting it, or to put it into a different category of theological thought, sacramentalise our vision of reality?

An important word in this context could be insight. Wordsworth, in his ‘Lines Written Above Tintern Abbey’ speaks about ‘seeing into the life of things’. It is a great phrase that does not need to read simply as part of the romantic vision of the world. It is closely akin to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘inscape’, a way of achieving this contemplative way of seeing that photography invites us to explore. And we should regard ‘seeing’ as an active, not a passive, process, for as I suggested, the latter is not really ‘seeing’ at all, not in the sense of noticing and paying attention. We are familiar with the capacity of a photograph to change our view of things. I am thinking, for example, of how war photographers have unexpectedly influenced public opinion through widely-circulated images of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Iraq to take some well-known examples. Documentary photography of the Great War, only slowly and reluctantly released to the British public at home, markedly affected their perception of the war and the true horrors of mechanised armed conflict. Or in a genre more familiar to me, the images of gothic cathedrals by the great early 20th century photographer Frederick Evans that respond with such grace and insight to the vision of heavenly harmony, order and light, the kind of understanding Abbé Suger brought to the world’s first Gothic cathedral at St Denis in the 12th century.[7] This is not to say that the photographer’s intent is necessarily conscious. But it is to suggest that there are times when the photographic image speaks in ways that awaken the conscience and activate the will. An image can have a transformative effect, become a living word that challenges the status quo and demands a change of attitude.
I link this with the frequency with which Hebrew prophets were galvanised by their ‘seeing’ something that re-shaped their vision. ‘He said, “Amos, what do you see?” And I said, “a basket of summer fruit’”.[8] ‘“Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see a branch of an almond tree”’.[9] The seeing, the noticing, the attentive response, all lead to the prophet’s act of recognition of what the Lord is saying. The association suggested by the word-play (in these two cases) drives the meaning far beyond a surface reading of the image itself, into the image in a way that constitutes not only a new insightful awareness on the prophet’s part but an imperative that comes to direct his career. In a fascinating narrative at the beginning of the Fourth Gospel where, as we have noticed, light and sight are key themes, the Messiah comes to be recognised first by John the Baptist and then by a succession of disciples: all on the basis of seeing and recognising. Jesus is the homme trouvé in the human landscape. ‘Nathanael said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see”.  We should not ignore the resonances of that verb for St John. Not only that, but the connection is established in the reciprocal act of being seen and recognised as well. ‘Nathanael asked Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” [10] This playful exchange does not feel far away from the dynamic of photography where recording an image is an act both of sight (in this elevated sense) and recognition. We might even take it further and ask whether it makes sense to say that the subject of the image sees and recognises the camera before ever the camera recognises it. 

The Fourth Gospel, however, tantalises us with its subtle use of the imagery of seeing. One of its central narratives, is the healing of the man born blind. The evangelist links this at the outset with Jesus’ proclamation ‘I am the light of the world’. As one of the Johannine ‘signs’ of messiahship, the journey from blindness to sight is a metaphor of the dawning of inward conviction about Jesus, and this in turn leads to a protracted debate with the Pharisees about who can and cannot ‘see’ in its profoundest sense.
[11] This understanding is carried into the upper room discourses where Jesus says ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’.[12] But in the resurrection narratives verbs of seeing are given a new twist. Mary Magdalen announces to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’, yet sight turns out not to be the central issue after all. When it comes to Thomas, Jesus says: ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Happy are those who have not seen, and yet come to believe.’[13] And precisely this, or something like it, turns out to have been the journey the ‘other disciple’ has already made earlier at the empty tomb. ‘He saw, and believed’ it says[14] –not in Thomas’ way, gazing on the risen Jesus for himself, but taking in evidence of the empty tomb and inferring resurrection from it, despite not yet ‘understanding the scripture, that he must rise from the dead’.

So the new beatitude of Easter turns out to be about not-seeing. And this too is suggestive for photography. Even before the digital age one of the principal threats to photography was its own promiscuity, both as to content (photograph everything for the sake of collecting and hoarding images) and technique (the ‘scatter-gun’ approach – don’t bother to compose, just take hundreds of rapid-fire shots in the hope that one of them may be worth preserving). Digital technology and television have made the risk of debasing the purity of the photographer’s vision infinitely higher. Susan Sontag discusses the effect of the superfluity of images on contemporary sensitivities, particularly in relation to suffering. ‘An image is drained of its force by the way it is used, where and how often it is seen….Image-glut keeps attention light, mobile, relatively indifferent to content. Image-flow precludes a privileged image… A more reflective engagement with content would require a certain intensity of awareness – just what is weakened by the expectations brought to images disseminated by the media whose leaching out of content contributes most to the deadening of feeling.’[15] She speaks about ‘war-tourism’, underlining the danger that the photographer observes but never participates. We could say the same about mass tourism’s effects on photography. Perversely, mass photography subverts its own function by contributing to ‘not-seeing’, not as a gospel benediction, but as a reversion to a kind of blindness or at least to a distorted vision. In this case, photography would turn out to be a curse. 
Does ‘not seeing’ imply the superiority of text over image (for example, ‘understanding the scripture’, in John’s phrase)? If so, might we follow Sontag in exploring how an image without a caption, an epiphany without a story, is incapable of communicating unambiguously because context and narrative are missing? Or does the Fourth Gospel move us into an altogether different cognitive world in which words and images fall away because all are provisional? If so, and we find ourselves in the borderlands of the apophatic way, the via negativa, then not just a particular photographic image but photography itself is under judgment, together with all the visual arts, because the activity of physical sight is merely a temporary state. In a universe where there is, to quote John Donne’s famous sermon, ‘no darkness or dazzling but one equal light’, there can be no photography and no visual art.

This leads me to turn finally to another aspect of photography with suggestive theological associations. This is the idea of memory.  I am tempted at this point to divert into an important aspect of photography which is its memory of the long tradition of visual art. Commentators have long observed how, for example, war photography can sometimes uncannily replicate images of the Pietà, Via Dolorosa and Crucifixion in the way perpetrators of violence and especially their victims are portrayed.  Like other texts, photography can reference the tradition consciously or, I suspect more often, unconsciously. But it is rather different aspect of photographic memory that I want to explore here.
Theorists of photography often draw attention to its elegiac character. It preserves memories that are already in the past when the image is captured. It is like looking up at the night sky and knowing that what we see is a journey not in the present but into the past. Photographic landscapes and townscapes show what places once looked like: they are familiar yet not familiar. Francis Frith’s great harvest of photographs of both British and overseas sites as they were in the 19th century is probably more popular now than ever. Eugene Atget’s classic oeuvre documenting Paris before Haussman’s re-engineering of the city holds the same appeal as do Dorothea Lange’s wonderful photographs of the Great Depression. As I have already said, the St Andrews pioneers produced a marvellous series of images that are invaluable in understanding the social history of this city and its people. Portraits are especially powerful in this respect because they preserve faces of people who are distant, have aged or have died. The dead in particular may have no other memorial but for a photograph: even unidentified, they are memorialised and live on: gone but not forgotten.

In the film Dead Poets’ Society, the teacher takes his class of boys to look at the faded curling sepia images of the school’s past sporting heroes lovingly preserved, with trophies and other past memorabilia in glass cases. ‘Where are they now, these people?’ he asks the boys rhetorically. ‘They are food for worms.’ But not just that, because their conserved images become, in the film, a life-changing tool to help the young discover their place in the world. The lesson these images of dead people teach is: carpe diem, seize the day, live in the present because the present is a transient gift. In the language of the Ash Wednesday liturgy that echoes the book of Genesis, ‘Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’ As a memento mori, photography performs the vital pedagogical function both of highlighting our mortality and to helping us to grasp life’s potentiality while we have it. We can read an old photo merely as nostalgia. But its poignancy originates in a deeper understanding of how it mirrors our condition. One day, we shall be remembered in this way ourselves.  Susan Sontag coins the phrase ‘melancholy objects’ for photographs[16], claiming that as soon as the image has been taken, it becomes one. ‘To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt. Cameras began duplicating the world at that moment when the human landscape started to undergo a vertiginous rate of change: while an untold number of forms of biological and social life are being destroyed in a brief span of time, a device is available to record what is disappearing.’[17]
In an important passage in his classic work on photography, John Berger writes:

           Has the camera replaced the eye of God? The decline of religion coincides with the rise of the photograph. … The faculty of memory led men everywhere to ask whether, just as they themselves could preserve certain events from oblivion, there might not be other eyes noting and recording otherwise unwitnessed events. Such eyes they then accredited to their ancestors, to spirits, to gods or to their single deity. What was seen by this supernatural eye was inseparably linked with the principle of justice. It was possible to escape the justice of men, but not this higher justice from which nothing or little could be hidden. Memory implies a certain act of redemption. What is remembered has been saved from nothingness. What is forgotten has been abandoned. If all events are seen, instantaneously, outside time, by a supernatural eye, the distinction between remembering and forgetting is transformed into an act of judgment, into the rendering of justice, whereby recognition is close to being remembered and condemnation is close to being forgotten. Such a presentiment, extracted from man’s long, painful experience of time, is to be found in varying forms in almost every culture and religion, and, very clearly, in Christianity.[18]
As Berger acknowledges, this taps into a rich vein of Judaeo-Christian understanding that celebrates memory in this dynamic way. To re-enact the Passover haggadah is ritually to remind the community of the covenant that God’s redeeming activity in history has not been forgotten, that God himself has not been forgotten. But the heart of the ceremony is more, I think, to make conscious and explicit that his people have not been forgotten by God. They exist, are redeemed, are here because they have not been forgotten. God has remembered. At the elevation of the bread and wine in the Christian eucharist, precisely this not being forgotten is ‘offered’ to God in memory of the saving work of Jesus. Memory kept alive with power to transform the present and future is what the New Testament means by anamnesis. And this is perhaps a uniquely powerful function of photography – to enable past moments, chronos as well as kairos, to live again in the present.

Berger goes on to say that ‘the spectacle creates an eternal present of immediate expectation: memory ceases to be necessary or desirable…The camera relieves us of the burden of memory. It surveys us like God, and it surveys for us. Yet no other god has been so cynical, for the camera records in order to forget’.
[19] Berger’s point as a Marxist theorist (and here he follows Sontag) is that this god is a capitalist deity that devours photographic images to feed its self-serving avarice. For him a debased photography does two things. It supplies a never-ending flow of still and moving images to service mass consumption, and thanks to its omniscience, makes possible Orwellian systems of surveillance and control. The first serves forgetfulness (don’t remember what you already have or what you have seen – crave what is new); the second, a malevolent form of recall where remembering has the potential to become an oppressive, destructive act.

But Berger wants a world in which an alternative, purified photography ‘remembers well’ so as to create better futures for humanity. ‘The task of an alternative photography is to incorporate photography into social and political memory, instead of using it as a substitute which encourages the atrophy of any such memory.’[20] This calls for a re-examining of the photographer’s motive in an almost vocational way that serves not the purposes of pleasing or shocking for their own sake, but the subject itself, in an encounter in which the integrity of the subject is met by the photographer’s own integrity. Cor ad cor loquitur is the watchword not only of the writer or composer but of the photographer as well.
Anamnesis is about this encounter between the remembered and the remembrancer (to revert to an old-fashioned word with the connotation of making memory a pious duty). This belongs both to the realm of purified liturgy and purified photography and is a theological task because both perform an essential ritualised function as it were on God’s behalf. In the liturgy, God remembers. And if the camera is Berger’s all-seeing representative eye that observes, records and captures reality, then by allowing it not simply to see but to see into (or for that matter, choose not to see) can also be said also to be a theological and spiritual work in which the photographic image can play a truly redemptive, transfiguring role.

It would take a von Balthasar to do justice to how a theology of light could articulate photography’s role in seeing and disclosing the beauty and the tragedy of the world as essentially theological in character. However, he did not, to my knowledge, discuss photography at all in his exhaustive studies of theological aesthetics. It is interesting to ask why photography, compared with painting or film, is under-explored by theologians. Perhaps it is time to put this right.
Given at the Institute of Theology, Imagination and the Arts, St Andrews University, March 2014

[1] Crawford, Robert, The Beginning and the End of the World: St Andrew’s, Scandal and the Birth of Photography, Edinburgh 2011.
[2] Sadgrove, Michael, Landscapes of Faith: the Christian Heritage of North East England, London 2013.
[3] Nichols, Aidan, The Word has been Abroad: a Guide through Balthasar’s Aesthetics, 1998, 29-30.
[4] Brown, David, God and Enchantment of Place, 2004, 107.
[5] Ibid, especially chapter 1.
[6] Romans 8.22ff.
[7] Peterson, Brian, ‘Frederick Evans and the Theology of Light’, http://www.nccsc.net/legacy/frederick-evans-and-the-theology-of-light.
[8] Amos 8.1ff.
[9] Jeremiah 1.11-12.
[10] John 1.29-51.
[11] John 9.
[12] John 14.9.
[13] John 20.29.
[14] John 20.8.
[15] Sontag, Susan, Regarding the Pain of Others, 2003, 94.
[16] Sontag, Susan, On Photography, 1977, 51ff.
[17] Ibid., 15-16.
[18] Berger, John, Understanding a Photograph, 53-54.
[19] Ibid., 55.
[20] Ibid., 57.

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