Back to the cemetery on a Sunday afternoon.
At the end of our sermon today, one of our pastors recapped the sermon of the other, and said in closing- “One day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and many of us will likely say ‘you actually wanted us to do those things?’ (a few chuckles) Only it won’t be funny then”.
A few days ago a few friends came over and one of them who’d never been over to our house saw my room, including the Bible on my desk, a few passages hung up on the wall, and some other Christian literature scattered around the room. They asked if I was religious, and I said yes, and they said that they didn’t know that. Although I thought back to a time my freshman year when I answered the same question “not severely”, there was still a pang of not living my life in a way that accords with what I believe to be true so clearly that even someone who’s only known me for a bit would know.
I did show this photo I showed to my friend and they instantly pinned it as “that picture is religious”. Not sure how to take that, so I’ll take it as a compliment, or at least an affirmation of the clarity of the purpose with which I’m taking photos.
One of my teachers once told our class that she had told her students she was teaching in senior portfolio that it’s totally OK to not know why you were doing something, but what she had no sympathy or patience for was students that had a clear idea but didn’t want to talk about it. So, I guess as long as it keeps making sense to take these photos, I’ll keep chipping away as best as I can at what I think they mean.
All of this started as a rather technical exercise, and I think I’d mentioned that before, the genesis of this idea. I started it, and had wanted to come back to it for the longest time without making an effort to do so. I came back to it a couple weeks ago, and it felt just as fresh as when I started. There certainly was the technical lavishness of making these flash/daylight photos, the satisfaction of “pulling it off”, so to speak, but there was another ripe aspect to it as well.
Back in highschool I had a handful of ideas that I wanted to shoot in a graveyard. They were all quite dumb, but because they were about death I thought it was very cool and deep. Maybe this is just the college version of that, and in four years I’ll look back on this and groan, but this is the closest I’ve ever come to earnestly and uniquely making a series about death that feels poignant and controlled.
Because let’s face it- death is just such a big topic, and especially when you just take a photo in a graveyard there’s a million errant associations that run wild. It feels almost impossible to ever get a hold on that, so it feels nice to have the aesthetic framework to play within- it started with fake flowers, but it’s starting to branch out, so that feels good.
In all seriousness, though- I think death is a topic we push off and avoid and try to joke away into tameness, but it will never work. Death, for now, is a reality that hangs over us.
And, by the way, I’d love to do this sometime but it’s a topic for another day, how science is absolutely a modern day religion. Do a comparison and contrast to Christianity, how there’s a creation story in both, and as I write “for now”, I realize there’s an eschatology to science- the hope of curing death and bringing about immortality. It’s a limited metaphor, obviously science is not a religion, but in many ways, serves similar purpose. Anyway.
Death and sin are wedded as two sides of the same coin, so using the visual metaphors of death is another way of talking about the cloud, the suppression of truth in unrighteousness brought about by sin. Much of my work since becoming a Christian has in some way dealt with my own difficulties in recognizing my sheer insignificance and short sightedness in light of, well, everything. I think this work is starting to veer away from autobiography- which is encouraging!
Life is a vapor, a breath, fleeting, we are grass, etc. And how true is that, and how much in our society do we perpetuate this myth that we are permanent, we’re immortal, we’re the protagonist of the great story of the universe, etc.
I won’t belabor this too much for the moment, it’s getting late and I’d like to put my feet up before passing out. We push death off, we push our own short-sightedness off. We use images to do so- we buy the image of immortal things, of our own immortality. But image, as we’ve so tragically learned this week, is a double-edged sword. The same devices that try to sell and polish an image of perfection also brings us the truth of the pervasive effects of sin in the world- Murder, tragedy, violence, hatred, racism, and so forth. Death.
I’m probably going to write in the next few days about what’s been happening over the past week, because it’s been heavy on my mind, but for now I’ll leave you with this.
In the summer I almost always have some kind of rash on my legs. Whether it’s plant rash or bug bites, I don’t remember any point this summer or spring since the leaves started coming in that I haven’t been itchy in some way. Despite growing up with an affinity for nature and hiking, no one ever pointed out to me what poison ivy looked like. I had looked at pictures online, knew the “leaves of three” thing, but no one had ever taken me out and said “this is poison ivy” and walked along with me while I asked “is this poison ivy? is this poison ivy?” Someone did that for me the other day.
I now know what it looks like and have been terrified to learn that it’s pervasive throughout the trails that I like to hike around the James, including the areas that I’ve been working on this project. In fact, it’s even in some of these pictures!
So I think that’s relevant to everything. I’ll leave it at that.