Friday, March 23, 2012

He is condemned to death.

Leah Post

Not a specific portrait of the stations, but they in general find me uneasy and here's why- 
The subjectivity and non-accountibility of human emotion inspire me to disregard sentiment as non-essential. In fact, I search for believable excuses to skirt around accepting it as a valuable offering from anyone. Emotion comes with no guarantee of balance, no requisite intention to better its listener, and it rarely cleans up after itself. 

I like to think about Jesus Christ. I like to think he is tidy. I imagine he feels as I do that most feelings muddy drinking waters. As long as I don't look Jesus in the eye, or see his posture, or absorb his mannerisms, I can maintain my half-human concept of him. 

But these portraits don't allow me to make the rules around good humanity. If I refrain from entering into the goop of moods, I'm the one left in the cold. I don't get to have Jesus, or maybe I'm the numb part of the body.

Tonight I identify most with Pilate. The look on his face says what I want to say, "You're all a fine mess. I won't leave it be on my skin."
- Leah Samuelson

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Via Dolorosa, or Stations of the Cross

I just finished my stations of the cross.  They took longer than I thought; there's a lot to think about.  As an experiment, I invited a few people: a writer, a political scientist, a minister, an art historian, a poet to add to this blog.  There may be others.  As we approach Easter and Good Friday, I'll be posting at least one new picture daily.  Perhaps one or more of them may comment from time to time.
The final group of pictures can be found here:  Below the poster, designed by Jeremy Botts, is the statement that goes with the show.  It may change a little.
The Good Friday Liturgy will include projections of the photographs and new work by Jeremy Botts.  There will be musicians performing as well.  Details of the show and Good Friday Liturgy:
The Way of The Cross, Artist's Statement
Your image of God creates you. 
Your image of God, your de facto, operative image of God, lives in a symbiotic relationship with your soul and creates what you become. Loving people, forgiving people have always encountered a loving and forgiving God. Cynical people are cynical about the very possibility of a coherent loving center to the universe. So why wouldn’t they become cynical themselves? 
When you encounter a truly sacred text, the first questions are not: Did this literally happen just as it says? How can I be saved? What is the right thing for me to do? What is the dogmatic pronouncement here? Does my church agree with this? Who is right and who is wrong here? These are largely ego questions, I am afraid. They are questions that try to secure your position, not questions that make you go on a spiritual path of faith and trust. They constrict you, whereas the purpose of the Sacred is to expand you. I know they are the first ones that come to our mind because that is where we live, inside of our ego, and these are the questions we were also trained to ask (unfortunately!).
I would, however, offer you and invite you to ponder another question. Simply having read the text, ask: What is God doing here? Then ask yourself: What does this say about who God is? Then, what does it say about how I can also meet this same God?
My image of God creates me. -Richard Rohr
I hate to start with a negative.  But I don’t trust Mel Gibson as an artist.  When I watch his films, I feel worked over, especially by the violence that he inflects everything with.  Sometimes I think the pleasure one receives from a Mel Gibson film is like the pleasure one might feel when inflicting torture.  He seems to enjoy the violence too much.  I knew intuitively when The Passion came out that I didn’t want to see it.  I didn’t want to have a sensationalized, sadomasochist portrayal of Jesus’ execution shape my imagination of the central event of history.  Jesus’ crucifixion is the event I commit my life to.  In my best moments, it orders my life.  While Hollywood manages to define a lot, there are some aspects of my imagination that I protect. The crucifixion isn’t entertainment to me.  There are those who foist images from The Passion on me, in spite of my efforts to avoid them.  But I have managed to keep most of the film at arm’s length.
I read from disparate sources, many of them musicians who routinely perform Bach’s music, that everything Bach wrote was about the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ, whether he designated it secular or sacred.  I’m frequently moved by Bach’s music; his Christian devotion might explain some of that.  Yet, I never feel manipulated or forced to see it just his way.  The comparison with Gibson may be less than ideal, the two are separated by hundreds of years and visual images are inherently different from musical ones.  I’ll leave it with a simple contrast: one way is a shared journey that enables the listener to make their own meaning.  Another is a forced vision that insists on its authority and authenticity, that drowns out everything else by its sheer spectacle and volume, and that allows for little silence and contemplation.  I hope the ideas that surround my approach to the images here are quiet and that they leave the viewer space to draw her own conclusions.  
Most of these are simply portraits.  The characters are all of us at one time or another.  We all work to crucify Jesus sometimes.  We inflict pain on others in spite of our desire for justice; we live in an oppressive system.  There are times that we stand on the road to Calvary and watch with sadness and compassion as an innocent person suffers.  And there are times when we suffer.
I was asked, more than a year ago, to consider making photographs about the Stations of the Cross.  My experience with the Stations has been primarily as a Lenten liturgy.  At the same time I started considering this project, my students and I began working on projects with refugees and torture survivors living in the Chicago area.  Most of them were from Africa; there are others from Latin America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe.   I didn’t expect it when we started, but the stories and the general ethos of those in our midst wounded by war, political upheaval, and unspoken violence shaped my approach to the photographs.  There are those whose lives are transformed by suffering, I knew that abstractly.  When I engaged collaboratively with torture survivors, many of my assumptions about photography in particular, and about art in general were turned upside down.  My ongoing journey with the Cross was influenced as well.  
“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me.”
The other thing I need to say is that I am a white male.  I grew up in white suburbia.  I initially settled in New York City in the 1980‘s during the AIDS epidemic.  I studied Photography there during the onset of post modernism in a graduate program actively engaged in the critique and realignment of contemporary culture.  I was the only male in a class of radical feminists.  I witnessed first hand the pain of exclusion in both the academy and the church.
More recently, my wife Karen and I built our family through adoption.  We are a mixed race family.  That is normal to us.  We notice poignantly how Jesus and his followers became white people in American culture.  It is difficult sometimes to be excluded from the assumed images and language of the church that is overwhelmingly white in suburbia.  Especially when Jesus wasn’t that way.  He went out of his way to include women, the marginalized, the outcast, and those who were racially different.  My understanding of fatherhood is shaped by Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father.  If the Old Testament is about blood, the New Testament is about adoption and that is the way of Jesus.  So I sought to imagine a Way of the Cross that includes my family.  These pictures are dedicated to them.
- Greg Halvorsen Schreck