Photography, Religion, And The Blurred Edges In Between

So let’s talk about religion. No, wait, come back!

Before you run off shrieking at the thought of being preached to on what is predominantly a photography blog, let me explain.

Ask me what religion I am, and my answer would be vague. I have fairly strong beliefs, but they don’t necessarily fit in with any religion I’ve found.

Bad experiences with Christianity in my childhood have pretty much ruled that out for life, and whilst parts of Buddhism appeal greatly, I’m just too embedded in my western materialistic ways to embrace it fully.

I don’t feel the need to go to any church because my beliefs are personal, as is my relationship with a creator, which, incidentally, I do believe in.

For me the beauty of world must have some creative act behind it – and therefore a creator.

A chance explosion just doesn’t work as a theory for me.

Which also fits in with some of the deepest reasons I photograph.

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By hunting for beauty, camera in hand, I feel comforted, reassured and soothed, amidst the chaos, panic and hyper-connected hurly burly of 21st century life.

Going out with a camera feels like a spiritual act, a way to reconnect with something vastly bigger and deeper than myself.

Call it Mother Nature, the work of the creator, God’s green earth, whatever you wish.

It enriches me, recharges me, rejuvenates me, and helps me feel insignificant yet reconnected with the universe simultaneously.

And if the camera is my conduit to nature’s divinity, then the woods, meadows, and churchyards I most commonly frequent are my places of worship.

Unlike many religions, I don’t feel I need to spread the Good News by encouraging others to go to church.

I spread the Good News (beauty is always around us, if you just look hard enough and long enough) by sharing my photographs, reminding people that this beauty can be captured with cameras available and affordable to any of us.

You don’t need hundreds of pounds. You don’t even need 10 pounds.

Speaking of church, it is no coincidence I visit these more and more these days. But not on a Sunday morning with the local congregation.

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My visits are usually on weekdays or weekend afternoons where there’s no-one else around, so I’m free to soak in the almost indescribable reverence and hushed awe I feel in these buildings.

Maybe its the defiant simplicity of the structures themselves, that have stood at the heart of communities for centuries.

Maybe it’s the ghosts of the thousands that have passed through their doors, kneeled at their pews, gazed at the light through their windows.

Or maybe God Is In The House.

Whatever the reasons, I can’t see me radically changing the way this photography religion has evolved in the last decade and more. Give praise!

How about you? What does photography do for you? Where do you like to photograph most?

Please let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).

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22 thoughts on “Photography, Religion, And The Blurred Edges In Between”

  1. Yes, I am with you, Dan. For me it is also “a hunting for beauty” as you have so aptly described it, although, the “red in tooth and claw” aspect of nature often poses problems for me. Churches also have a fascination for me, and the sanctity of the growth of the individual often puts me at loggerheads with Eastern concepts of Nirvana.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Don.

      I have mixed feelings about those who become nuns or monks or similar, and devote their whole lives to their beliefs. I greatly respect their path and a part of me longs to do the same, to have that simplicity, that singular focus and devotion.

      But then there are plenty of aspects of my life I couldn’t give up – family, photography, writing…

      And I wonder how much being in isolation on a mountain top monastery makes a contribution to your immediate community, let alone the wider world.

      So for now I’ll continue to “worship” with my cameras…

    1. Thanks Pavel, the photo at the top of this post is one from a film swap I did some years ago – one from the archives!

      The church door overlaid with the trees seemed very apt for this post.

      1. Thanks, I referred to top image, I like the heavy textures here. Both are very nice 🙂

    1. I tend to agree.

      Although having said that I do find that that whilst some very grand buildings are very impressive feats of architecture, for me the more primitive and simple the church, the more it seems to have a presence, and appeal to me.

      I think because it somehow suggests that despite the local community lacking wealth and materials, they still found a way to build a church and have sustained it for centuries with the same devotion and commitment. Those generations of footsteps somehow give these ancient buildings a great resonance and presence.

      Thanks for your comments!

  2. In the age of selfies and social media, my theory is “we photograph what we love”. With this background, I found your article spurred thought blooms. I consider myself a christian/zen Buddhist/educational psychologist who can choose just one? We can worship with any expression, some cultures worship through dance for example. There’s a quote, by St. Francis I think, “preach at all times, if necessary use words”. One can worship with a camera.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts.

      I would suggest with much social media, people don’t photograph what they love, but what they think other people will love (or more commonly, “like”) and whatever they hope will increase their popularity, number of likes, follows, friends etc. It’s all very superficial, like layers of holograms interacting with each other rather than real people.

      But certainly I photograph what I love and what I want to share with others.

      As with many things these days, there is so much choice. A hundred years ago one’s religion was probably almost entirely dictated by where your grew up and what your family and community did/believed/followed. You either followed the same as them, or didn’t. There wasn’t the choice of 77 (or 77,777??) different religions/sects/beliefs there are today, where most people take a pick and mix approach and have for example a handful of Christianity, half a pocket of Buddhism and a dash of Mormon, and which may be a slightly different recipe a week later after further research and experience.

      This is why I think I keep my beliefs personal (between me and a creator), I can’t really comprehend how a group of people can have a similar enough belief that they all congregate and worship in the same way. It’s up to each of us to build our own belief system and faith.

      Interesting that you mention dance, I used to be obsessively into salsa dancing. In the moment, with the right music and partner, it can be a transcendental experience, that is you transcend where you are, who you’re with, who you are even, and disappear into the music and the motion… There’s only one other experience in life I’ve had that is this intense, and that also involves one other partner!

      Worship with a camera is less intense but still essential (for me) and hugely rewarding.

      Thanks for your thought provoking comments!

  3. I think your thoughts on religion pretty much echo mine. I’ve also studied a bit of paganism and wicca as well – some of it is quite thought provoking.

    I love visiting churches – they are wonderful places to visit.

    1. I imagine any kind of theology degree would be fascinating. I debated this, or psychology, or similar when I was at that age, but just didn’t feel assured enough as a person to purse that route. I think it would have made my brain explode. It’s something that’s easier to do when you’re older and have had more life experience to form your own beliefs.

      Almost any religion or doctrine must have its appeal for people to have taken it up and followed it in the first place, and it can be fascinating to study them – and why people follow them.

      1. I agree, I know when my wife was studying the reformation lat year as part of her OU history degree, I found it really interesting. In a lot of ways the history of religion is the history of society itself.

  4. Wonderful post. Everything you said hits directly to my experience with religion and the religion of photography. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and helping me see mine more clearly.

      1. It goes way beyond photography. I have been having really meaningful conversations with people about religion and it seems many are adopting thoughts and beliefs outside their religion (mainly Christianity), or at least ordering and crossing over and back as you mention.

      2. I think religion aside we all need to find lenses to see the world through, to narrow our focus on one or two channels and pursue them. Otherwise everything is too vast, too complex, too overwhelming.

        Photography is a way of literally narrowing our focus down to one thing at a time, and its repercussions reverberate positively through many parts of our lives.

  5. I know we follow different paths Dan (I’m a commuted Christian) but I always love reading your posts that describe at what a spiritual person you are. I guess at heart, we are all pretty spiritual beings in one way or another, wanting in some way to understand or connect to the one who created all of this.

    Just like any art form (painting, singing, writing, dance etc.) photography absolutely can be an act of worship. Honestly, I think you’re more in touch with this than quite a lot of Christians that I know.

    Keep it up! Whatever you choose to call our creator and however you chose to celebrate that, you’re seen, known and loved.

    1. Yes I can see that anyone who believes in a creator or God of some kind can photograph their creations as an act of celebration and gratitude, and worship.

      Thank you for your kind words, and good to hear from you, we haven’t for a few weeks.

  6. That should read “committed”! Ha ha!

    Mind you, my commute on the train is one of the few quiet moments in life I have to read and pray so perhaps I was right the first time!

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