If I were the photographer I wanted to be, would it be Helmar Lerski, whose faces burn into one’s soul with a “harsh and beautiful light”? Would I be Edouard Boubat, who made the ordinary marvelous? Certainly I would have thought that faces would be my subject, looking for the elusive and dangerous soul. But it turns out to be something completely different. I find my camera looking at churches constructed a thousand years ago by people who share everything with us today except for a sense of God which we have lost completely. Lost completely in the sense that they had. Do we have a living conscience like Saint Bernard of Clairvaux who was the dominant figure of his age, who in the 12th Century could humble kings and Popes? Do we have someone whose clarion call was to give all, give everything, and ask for nothing. He was fiery in his condemnations, but he censured the sin, not the sinner.
These churches move me enormously, so I was prompted to learn what I could of the people that built them. To this end, I was always interested in history, in reading about the times and people who lived and built these churches. The great books of Johann Huizinga, Henry Adams and so many others were inspiring, but it was not the history that really gave me any sense of the knowledge, it was the art. To find out what is important to a people, we must see the promptings of their dreams as much as the promptings of their appetites.
Art is something that is primary in man, it is fundamentally important. When we divorce art from the center of our life, we diminish ourselves. Young people who seem to live for their music understand this, even if the only prompting of that art is sex, drugs and rock and roll. It is important to them. It is fundamental and vital. Disparage it though we may, that love of art is important, even though it diminishes over time, even though it ossifies into recollection. But what if the art spoke of things higher, of aspirations more profound? What if the art attempted to express our most noble thoughts and feelings? And more to the point, what if it succeeded?
I think that, in the 12th Century, religious architecture did just that. It reflected the best of the people and their civilization. In doing so, that art has lasted for centuries, leaving traces of the builders for us to find a thousand years later. And our cameras record those traces.
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