Tuesday, November 12, 2002

From the NYTimes (LRR): An exhibit in Paris examining the use of Christian images in photography.

Thus, over the centuries, crucial scenes from the New Testament — from Jesus in the manger and the cleansing of the Temple to the Last Supper, the Calvary and the Ascension — became familiar to Christians through paintings, mosaics, frescoes, sculptures and friezes. Indeed, as iconolatry grew, these images came to be thought of as more than mere representations of, say, Jesus and Mary: they assumed a sanctity of their own as if they were real.

Yet, perhaps strangely, when many of these same images found expression in the new art form of photography in the mid-19th century, they lost much of their power and mystery. In the eyes of many of the faithful, it seems, real people re-enacting episodes from the Bible looked less spiritual than painted or sculptured images. By the 20th century, photographers had concluded that traditional Christian symbols could remain relevant only if they were themselves transformed.....

....Interestingly, although it is presented as an art exhibition, "Corpus Christi" makes a strong case for religious photography. By working too literally, the early efforts to reproduce traditional Christian images contributed no additional meaning, but postwar photography used the memory of those images to evoke a more general Christian spirit. In fact, it could be argued that an art form invented to reproduce reality has proved to be an effective interpreter of the ethereal concept of faith.

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