Nine Figures for Holy Week

black and white photography, self-portrait

As with last week’s photographs, these self-portraits were all taken in one session, onto a single roll of film. Consequently the images have a unified look which predisposes them to being arranged in sequences, combinations or grids.

When I took these I had no intention of combining them. I had made small prints of a few that looked interesting on the contact sheet, and somehow, out of the disorder of my work-table, the images that make up the last pair came together, upside-down. 

panel 9

I was intrigued and moved by this combination – it seemed to be looking at me as intently as I was looking at it – a quality of religious Icon paintings.  I made small prints of the remaining images and spent a few days mixing and matching them, exploring the various permutations of ‘right-way-up’ and ‘upside-down’ (I use every permutation at least once).

But my exploration was also informed with a sense that the work I was progressing towards was going to be an essentially religious work.

My relationship with Christianity is complex. I am an atheist who believes that a great proportion of what I value in my culture, that makes life worth living, has come about as a result of Christianity and its legacy. I subscribe to Christian values and think Jesus’s life and teachings provide an outstanding example and source of inspiration for mankind (especially when compared with some of the ‘prophets’ on offer from other religions).

With the caveat that the artist is not necessarily the best interpreter of his own work (if anyone should be puzzled by his own work it should be its creator!) – ostensibly these images explore the condition of Jesus and his disciples during the Passion – the use of paired images allows different, often contradictory, conditions (pain, fear, denial, hope, despair, joy, pleasure, loneliness, confusion…) to interact without their diminishing one-another.

By extension, each figure may also be an entry from a ‘Dictionary of Suffering’; not just that of mankind, but of all suffering entities. Indeed, as I was playing with these images the art-works that were most present in my mind were Francis Bacon’s ‘Three Studies for Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion‘ and R. B. Kitaj’s ‘Erasmus Variations‘.

Faith has, understandably, always been central to Religious Art. But just as we never really knew what our planet Earth meant till we had stepped outside it and seen it from space, maybe the art of the atheist whose gaze is nevertheless still turned with respect, interest and concern towards Christianity can reveal and communicate things of value that a believing Christian could not access on his own.