There is no theology of photography. So we work with light? duh. All visual art works with light. So what? Photography is just a tool we use to say what we want to say, like any other artistic tool, be it pencils or pens or paints or clay. Don’t make it something it is not.
This is quite a direct challenge, and on the surface, seems very strong. Here is my response (my emphasis added):
His is a fine guide and a delightful, even inspiring, reference book, with many wonderful photos of monasteries and monastic life; it is at the same time not at all the type of photography or the sort of book I have set out to produce.
My background is more in fine art photography than documentary or even journalistic photography (categories which might best describe Alexei’s work).
Working primarily in black & white — which by its very nature abstracts the subject, shifting it beyond place and time — I’ve seen my gelatin silver prints selected for juried exhibits (and even win some awards) since 1983. For almost twenty years I worked in a range of film formats: 35mm, 120 (medium format), and 4×5 (large format). Then, at the turn of the century/millennium, I began making my first photographs using the digital medium, and had my first museum-grade, fine-art inkjet prints selected for the Water Tower Annual, in Louisville KY.
After a major digital camera upgrade in 2008, I returned to fine art landscape photography with renewed vigor and vision, and in 2014 published a coffee table book titled Pursuing the Light, a forty-year retrospective of my landscape photographs. The process of preparing that book led me to reflect on just what photography is, from an Orthodox Christian theological and aesthetical viewpoint. I have adapted some of my insights from the Preface to my book, and wish to share them with you.
Nothing exists in general. If something is beautiful or good, it is manifest in a particular way at a particular time such that we can know it. And this is our true life. A life lived in a “generalized” manner is no life at all, but only a fantasy. However, this fantasy is increasingly the character of what most people think of or describe as the “real world.”
A monk lives in a monastery. He rises early in the morning and prays. He concentrates his mind in his heart and dwells in the presence of God. He will offer prayers for those who have requested it. He will eat and tend to the work assigned for him to do. And so he lives his day. He works. He prays.
And someone will say, “But what does he know about the real world?” But what can they possibly mean? He walks on the earth. He breathes the same air as we do. He eats as we do and sleeps as we do. How is his world any less real than that of anyone else on the planet?
When it comes to landscape photography, there is perhaps no one better known to the general public than Ansel Adams, and I gladly list him as a primary inspiration of mine. But in addition to Adams, I would like to mention two other photographers who have greatly impacted my work and approach to the craft: John Sexton, and Minor White. In presenting my inner approach to photography, a brief discussion of these three figures has direct bearing on the merits of The North American Thebaid Photographic Pilgrimage Project.
Ansel Adams was a towering figure in photography, a technical master of composition, exposure, developing and printing, with a highly refined sense of light. However, Minor White, while less well known to the general population, had (I believe) a deeper, more philosophical and even spiritual approach to photography than Adams, as this quote of his reveals:
While we cannot describe its appearance (the equivalent), we can define its function. When a photograph functions as an Equivalent we can say that at that moment, and for that person the photograph acts as a symbol or plays the role of a metaphor for something that is beyond the subject photographed… One does not photograph something simply for “what it is”, but “for what else it is”. (Source, emphasis in original.)
One biographer of White notes that “White was a deeply religious man whose whole life was a spiritual journey. His photography arose out of this and was an inherent part of this pilgrimage. It isn’t an approach that has been fashionable in academic circles in recent years.” (Emphasis added.)Continue reading “What is Photography?”→