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Watchers and Holy Ones

An exhibition of original photography entitled "Watchers and Holy Ones," by Brother Damien Joseph, is currently on display at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, where our Brothers live in NYC. Below is a virtual version of the exhibit, including Damien's narrative about the show, and small versions of the images on display:

In the brief two years that the SSF Brothers have been at Saint Mary’s, the beautiful and inspiring art and architecture of our church has been a favorite photographic subject for me. There are nearly endless details and new viewpoints to explore. When COVID-19 made it necessary to suspend public worship and close our doors to visitors, the empty and darkened church invited scrutiny with new eyes once again. I was able to experiment with the natural darkness, with added lighting, and with long exposure times. Ladders and a Skyjack lift gave me unique vantage points and let me discover features and details I’d not previously noticed.

While I captured many interesting views, one theme came particularly into focus (pun intended) as I interacted closely with the many dozens of figures and faces in the carvings and paintings of our church. Many of these are hidden from plain site, cloaked in shadow, or simply too small to stand out in the grandeur of this church. But during our isolation, they have captivated me. They stand as silent witnesses, watching over our corporate absence as they have over our corporate presence for 150 years. They stand for the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) — saints whose names and stories we know, as well as nameless faces that are all of us, past, present and future.

I have a near obsession with detail, close-ups, and macro photography, which allows small objects/images to be reproduced at substantially greater than life size. Most of these images represent one of dozens of different angles, lighting choices, and zoom levels taken of the same subject. I got to spend time truly getting to know each of these figures, ultimately choosing a single image that best captures their personality for me. The closeness of these images evokes for me an intimacy and welcome as these watchers draw us into their endless worship. The warm, almost monochromatic, tones of dark woodcarving and aging oil paintings adds to this intimacy. These watchers have helped me to feel just a shade less alone these months.

My fellow residents here at the church have helped me to process this experience and choose the images for this exhibition. Fr. Jay Smith observed of the details of our church’s art that they seem to function like a symphony: we first take in the beauty and majesty of the whole, but as we enter into that beauty, we find that it is made up of hundreds of indispensable details. Each string, each reed, the tone and timbre of each note is essential to the whole. And so are we, as the church, the people of God.

I invite you to be drawn in, as I have been, by our faithful watchers and holy ones.

Peace and all good! Damien Joseph SSF

Gallery: Click on thumbnail or use arrows to scroll; mouse over larger image for title; click larger image to view full image.

The images in this exhibition are all taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II camera. These open edition images may be reproduced for future sale and other use by the artist. Sales of prints in this exhibition will benefit the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and the Society of Saint Francis, Province of the Americas. All images copyright Society of Saint Francis, American Province, Inc., for the artist.

For information on purchasing prints, contact Brother Damien Joseph SSF.

To learn more about Saint Mary's, and for photos of the larger church, visit their website.


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