Taking Pictures of Jesus: Producing the Material Presence of a Divine Other
Visual representation of the divine has had a dramatic impact on the historical trajectory of major religious affiliations such as Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Visual representation through photography has allowed religious deities to achieve ‘concrete’ proof of their existence. Divine photographs have become a means to bridge the seemingly endless abyss between faith and reason. These representations can be used to reconstruct the audience’s interpretation of reality.
Berryman describes the declarations of a Canadian woman who asserted that she had experienced personal encounters with the apparitions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and other saints. This woman claimed not only to be able to communicate with these figures, but also to be able to perceive them in the same concrete manner natural to any living, breathing human being. During these encounters this woman would photograph her apparitions.
The following is a description of one of her photographs:
“His swollen right eye. See his crown of thorns. His bleeding face in the whole photo... the middle of this forehead mutilated during the flagellation and his falls. Jesus also wants us to see his disfigurement. Blood flows from his hair; because they were pulling out his hair (439).”
When I look at this photograph, all I see are clouds. There are dark clouds broken by patches of sunlight that peak through. There is the silhouette of a tree on the left side of the photograph. I do not see any resemblance to Jesus whatsoever.
Each photograph is marked and described in a similar fashion. The descriptions of these photographs are extremely detailed. Berryman argues that because this woman provides such detailed descriptions of her apparitions, it is more likely that she is being honest about these visions. In addition, the medium does not demand her audience to look beyond what is apparent. She only clarifies preexisting information.
This photographic series lacks a full narrative arc. The pictures only account for bits and pieces of the experiences of this woman and her apparitions. The missing pieces are filled in by the comments and sketches of the medium. These comments, however, are not neutral. This woman poses the moral debate of disbelief. She claims that if the observers do not accept and believe her claims, humanity will be condemned. Jesus will return for judgement day.
It is likely that many of the viewers of her series wanted to believe, wanted to make the ‘right’ decision, and most certainly did not want to reject Jesus.
The audience is most likely composed of individuals who, to some extent, have an interest or underlying belief in Christianity. This predisposition led them to view her photographs and entertain her claims. Then, when faced with the moral dilemma of personally being held accountable for the condemnation of humanity, they decided to play it safe and just say YES to Jesus.
As far as I am concerned this album is not a documentation of reality. It is a loosely constructed representation of a psychopath’s visions. This individual is unstable enough to be hallucinating, moreover has an unreasonable emotional investment in the teachings of the Bible. It is much more likely that she made herself believe that she could communicate with Saints. She probably has some deep seated emotional conflict that has remained unresolved from her childhood. She is more immoral than the individuals who chose not to believe in the ‘truth’ of her photographs. She makes claims that these ideas of hers actual exist in reality, when her photographs are concrete proof that NONE of these visions were real.