‘Pursuing the Light’ – A Theology of Photography

Dawn Through Trees
‘Dawn Through Trees’, © Ralph H. Sidway

In talking and sharing about the North American Thebaid Project, I feel compelled to try to describe both what it is, and what it is not.

Much of this description revolves around the type of photography I seek to apply to the project.

Often I find it much easier to say “what it is not.”

My “apophatic” description of the North American Thebaid Project leads me to ask if you are familiar with the recent book by Alexei Krindatch, Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Monasteries.

atlas_of_monasteries_grandeHis 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.

PursuingLightCover

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.

Continue reading “‘Pursuing the Light’ – A Theology of Photography”

What is Photography?

A Theology of Photography

AnselAdamsadobechurch
Church, Taos Pueblo Nat’l Historic Landmark, New Mexico, 1942; Ansel Adams.

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.)

white-two-barns
Two Barns, Minor White.

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?”