Robert Adams

Robert Adams, former English teacher turned photographer, has been described as a philosopher of photography. His two books, Beauty in Photography and Why People Photograph, certainly authenticate his credentials. Of the two I especially appreciate the former. He argues that form is the essence of beauty, and makes this claim about its importance: “Why is form beautiful? Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.” (pg. 25) There is a touch of existentialism in his position as he notes, I believe rightly, that, “With a camera, one has to love individual cases. A photographer can describe a better world only by better seeing the world as it is in front of him.” (pg. 26) Furthermore, “Photography can always be new, because the surface of life keeps changing.” (pg. 84) Perhaps this is part of the attraction of street photography today. This is a small book of only 108 pages published by Aperture, and it is surely worth the read.
Why People Photograph is a collection of essays written since the publication of Beauty in Photography. If you were to come to this book hoping for an answer to the question, why do people photograph you would be disappointed. These are essays and reviews written, as the forward says, “for a variety of occasions.” As with the former book he ranges widely in quoting from his own readings; Aristotle, Aquinas, William Carlos Williams, C. S. Lewis and Keats, to name a few. And as with the former, there are wonderful quotable lines like, “A saints gift to us is a life, but an artist’s is mainly a vision.” (pg. 90) Again, “Art does not deny that evil is real but it places evil in a context that implies an affirmation . . .” (pg. 181)
Both of these books will reward the thoughtful reader whether a photographer or one who simply appreciates the arts.
[This is a simultaneous post on both of my blogs.]

Review: Imagine

Commenting on a line in the well-known Christian hymn, Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus; the line that says, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,” Steve Turner makes this poignant point: “This can lead people to wonder why God bothered to create the physical world and its enjoyments if we can only be truly fulfilled by escaping them.” (Imagine: a vision for Christians in the arts. p 57) Yes, we might wonder indeed. As a photographic artist and Christian, I have sought out mature reflections on the relationships between my desire to photograph and my desire to know God in Christ. When I played basketball at a Christian college many, many years ago, I once spoke with our coach, a fine Christian man, about the relationship between our Christian faith and our sport. He replied that basketball is just something Christians do. I was satisfied with that answer at the time but I do not find it satisfying in my attempts to produce art with the camera. Is it only something I do, like mowing the lawn, or driving my car?
Steve Turner has spent many years as a writer and poet, and has been heavily involved in the music industry. He has written books about Johnny Cash, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and The Beatles, to name a few. So when he sets out to write about the arts he has established his credentials. This is a slim book written from a solid Christian theological perspective. It celebrates true creativity wherever it is found. It promotes the full engagement of talented people of faith with the creative world on the grounds that all creativity is ultimately a gift of God. He notes that, “Each time Christ performed a human activity, he was blessing it.” (p. 60) Art requires no more justification than the creation and the incarnation.
Turner is not happy with the tendency in some Christian circles to think that all art by Christians requires some sort of explicit reference to the Bible or theology. As he puts it, “The best art doesn’t tell people what to believe but enables them, for a short while, to see things differently, and the Christian can enable people to momentarily glimpse the world through eyes that have been touched by Christ.” (pp 115, 116) This is an exciting book for me, and one I heartily recommend to any religious person who wants to reflect upon the arts and faith issues.

[Steve Turner. Imagine:A Vision for Christians in the Arts. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001. 131 pages.]

Glen West in Santa Fe

The Glen West, 2014 conference on the arts and spirituality was unlike any conference I had attended. It was the photography section that drew me, but there was much more to learn about than photography. For example see my review of the book The Burning Word here. The photography instructor was this great guy, Michael Wilson (www.michaelwilsonphotography.com). Here he is searching for a computer file to show us.
Michael at Glen West, 2014
There was some special fun to be had in class at times.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
For your reading enjoyment let me mention two books that Michael encouraged us to read, both by Robert Adams, Beauty in Photography and Why People Photograph. I hope to review both of these in a future post.

For a conference related to both religion and arts it is difficult to imagine a better place than Santa Fe. It is filled with galleries (none of which I had time to visit) and historic churches. I visited the Bascilica Cathedral of St. Francis twice, the first time only outside and the second time inside as well.
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Inside The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis, Santa Fe, New Mexico

On a free day many of us went to visit some more historic sites like the El Santuario de Chemayo, a place known for healings and considered very sacred by many.
El Santuario de Chemayo, New Mexico (Zeiss 18mm)
People have left many signs of their visit tied to fences and any other objects. The chapel area is full of crutches and other signs of healing, but no pictures were allowed inside else I would have received some.
El Santuario de Chemayo, New Mexico (Zeiss 18mm)
I chose to explore the area around the sanctuary and discovered some interesting sites like this one:
El Santuario de Chemayo, New Mexico (Zeiss 18mm)
Later in the day, after visiting Taos, we encountered this old bridge crossing the Rio Grande River. Who would want to drive across this?
on the Rio Grande river near Taos, New Mexico.
Prior to the conference I spent a couple of days with friends in Albuquerque. The area is filled with native sites. We visited the Acoma site and learned about the people who have lived on high mesas for centuries.
Pueblo of the Acoma Indians, New Mexico
People are small in those landscapes.
Acoma Indian Puebo land, New Mexico
I conclude with a view from St. John’s College where the conference was held.

Clouds over mountains, Santa Fe, New Mexico