And now for the oft repeated story… In the 1960’s Ralph Hattersley Jr published a series of ‘lessons’ in a long running Popular Photography series called Hattersley's Class. I still have many of those articles. Several have been instrumental in forming my opinions on photography. But there was one that I could never get out of my head. It was titled Is Photography Your Religion. I had always thought that I understood ‘my religion’ but I also knew that I was totally hung up on taking photographs. The article gave me pause; made me reevaluate much of what I thought about both religion and photography.
Hattersley was an avowed atheist who not long before this article was written had converted to Christianity. Among my many interests is conversion, the hows and whys and what happened. I am interested in why people are as well as why they are not. Although I will never ask I am very interested in the path.
Hattersley was a somewhat controversial figure. For those that remember that time in history possibly remember that the Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg published a quartely magazine, Eros. The name says it all. In the fourth and last issue was a spread of photographs of a nude black man and a nude white woman. The U S Attorney General, Robert Kennedy, filed obscenity charges; the court agreed and Ginsberg went to prison. Today these photographs would not raise a single eyebrow; probably wouldn't have then except for the racial component. Ralph Hattersley was the photographer. Ralph had a way with that, shaking up the norm, making you see things differently.
Esquire Magazine hired Hattersley to do a series of articles for their Christmas holiday issue. They obviously wanted a controversial article that would ridicule the Christian beliefs. That is not what they got from Hattersley. Esquire never used the photographs. As far as I know they were published only in Hattersley’s Popular Photography article.
In the last forty some odd years I have reread Is Photography Your Religion numerous times. I have marveled at the photographs, but mostly I marveled at Hattersley’s concept for the photographs. Rather than the usual Christmas crèche, holiday lights, family gatherings—the familiar associations, Hattersley photographed a crucifix—totally the wrong symbolism, but so powerfully done.
The crux of the article as it was published in Hattersley’s Class was finding Christ in everyday life—using photography as a tool in that pursuit. In truth, the article was only partly about the photography. It presented a viewpoint on religion what was very new to me and my Southern Baptist bred thinking.
It wasn’t until 2007 that I started using religious symbolism in my photography. The delay was partly because I was totally intimidated by Hattersley’s photographs. I thought I would never be able to work with metaphor in any comparable way. Everyone has seem at least some of my attempts and none are anywhere close. The Crucifix Project, The Price of Christ, Small Manifestations and various miscellaneous efforts have ensued. I am nowhere near, but I will continue to work on it.
Another difficulty is that my approach to photography is considerably different from Hattersley's. Whereas he carried a beautifully crafted crucifix with him and photographed it in various every day locations, I prefer working with found objects--a very different approach created by my nature. I think that Hattersley's approach was wonderfully creative but that mine is much more difficult. Where he relied on himself seeing or being able to create the metaphor; I rely very heavily on another placing objects in a meaningful juxtaposition and sometimes very heavily on accident.
In these photographs taken in a Hispanic open market I love the religious symbols mixed in among the fruits, vegetables, the dried beans and a unbelievably large variety of hot peppers. They become a part of everyday life.
I love the way the people of the market are so much more open in displaying the symbols of their faith. There's no middle class white uptightness, uncertainty, doubt, guilt here. It is beautiful, it is open, it is thrilling to witness. It makes we wonder if I actually ever had such a casual relationship so easily accepted and lived.