Market Study confirms: The Thebaid Project is Unique (Updated)

The North American Thebaid is truly unique in the Orthodox Christian world. Market research reveals very few projects similar to this in scope or purpose, and nothing like it in North America. Most photo books on Orthodox monasticism center on exotic and legendary locales such as Mount Athos in Greece, or St. Catherine’s Monastery at the foot of Mount Sinai, or on church art and architecture.

Light in DesertBook-OBrien
‘Light in the Desert’, by Tony O’Brien, University of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe.

Much more than a documentary or photo essay, the images selected for the Thebaid book will resonate with Dostoevsky’s famous dictum, “Beauty will save the world.”

Both inspirational and informational, the Thebaid book will be something to linger over and return to again and again, conveying the unseen mystery and beauty of Orthodox monasticism through visual means, and drawing the viewer to “ask, seek and knock”, and to go deeper into the Orthodox Christian faith.

Because of this podvig of seeking to explore the apophatic, hidden life of the Monastic Way using visual means, I have sought to articulate a ‘Theology of Photography’ (see here and here). It is this emphasis which sets the North American Thebaid Project somewhat apart, and which requires some comparison with other photography books on monasticism.

I am deeply indebted to Archimandrite Gerasim (Eliel) of the OCA Diocese of the South who, in a conversation back in February 2016, urged me to conduct an actual “market study”, to survey and identify photographic books both similar to, as well as different from, my concept for the North American Thebaid. What I discovered is both illuminating, and inspiring.

Continue reading “Market Study confirms: The Thebaid Project is Unique (Updated)”

A Theology of Photography, Part 2 [Updated]

Dawn Through Trees
‘God Playing Hide and Seek’ — © Ralph H. Sidway (Title by J. Howe)

A commenter on the North American Thebaid Facebook Page had this to say concerning my recent blog post, ‘Pursuing the Light’ – A Theology of Photography:

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):

Continue reading “A Theology of Photography, Part 2 [Updated]”

‘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?”