✿ If I could be … ✿ (Dennis Aubrey)

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.

Eglise Saint Julien (Courville, Marne)  Photo by PJ McKey
Eglise Saint Julien (Courville, Marne) Photo by PJ McKey

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.

Capital, Basilique Sainte Madeleine, Vezelay (Yonne) Photo by PJ McKey

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?

Notre Dame de Chauriat, Chauriat (Puy-de-Dôme)
Notre Dame de Chauriat, Chauriat (Puy-de-Dôme) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

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.

South porch of Notre Dame de Mont-Devant-Sassey (Haute-Marne)  Photo by PJ McKey
South porch of Notre Dame de Mont-Devant-Sassey (Haute-Marne) Photo by PJ McKey

10 thoughts on “✿ If I could be … ✿ (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dennis, If I could be a photographer, I would be Dennis Aubrey…spending my life lost in the wonder of these structures and the numinous to which they give visible expression.

    As I read your comment about what we have lost, I thought immediately of the numinous, our stance before the “Mysterium Tremendum”. That took me back to Rudolph Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy: An Inquiry into the Non-rational Factor in the Idea of the Divine and its Relation to the Rational.” An internet search produced this link to an academic’s discussion of Rudolph’s ground-breaking work and the relation between the numinous and the Gothic: http://academic.brooklyn.cuny.edu/english/melani/gothic/numinous.html.

    Made my day – set the course for further exploration and contemplation. Thank you.

    1. I love that word, “numinous”, always one of my favorites. And thanks for your kind sentiments. As far as “The Idea of the Holy”, what a way to start a day. And mysterium tremendum et fascinans – now I’ve got a whole new post to think about!

  2. Another great post. Bless you and P. J. For your efforts to capture and reflect on the work of the Romanesque masters and the people they worked to inspire.

  3. Dennis – I would venture that you are precisely the artist you need to be. In fact I would argue you were predisposed to this calling from childhood. If you will indulge the metaphor, your early exposure to France’s cathedrals may have acted as an inoculation – protecting you from some of life’s more banal distractions yet making you all the more susceptible to their meaning and importance. Thank you – both you and PJ – for sharing this with the rest of us!

  4. Again and again, Dennis, it is the soul of these churches that you and PJ pursue. And find! I am so grateful for your posts and the conversations they start.

    Judy Vaughn

  5. Dennis, do you have anywhere a list of all the churches you visited and photographed, with their address?

    1. Joel, we have an ongoing list of churches that we’ve featured in the blog – this is the link. There are no addresses, however, and more to the point, there are many times no addresses to be had anywhere. We’ve shot about 725 churches in all, so this is just a fairly small selection. Many times it is possible to use the church name to go to Wikipedia and get the map coordinates. We do that often for our Google Earth database. Now that you have brought it up, perhaps I will add these coordinates to the “Featured Churches” page that I just linked you to.

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