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the Sorrowful Mysteries

By MichaelBilottaPhotography    
Last year I intended to do a series of images based on my feelings about the faith I was born into and left in my young adulthood, Catholicism. There is a lot to be angry about, at least in my opinion, and the lingering, psychological damage of this faith has been well documented and joked about for decades by me as well as others.

With that intent, I played hooky one day from the day job last October and drove to my home town to the largest church I remembered growing up, hoping to obtain permission to shoot the interior of the church, possibly renting it for an on-location photo shoot. It was an odd thing to go into an institution I despise with hat in hand and ask permission to use the church for purposes not exactly intended to bolster the reputation of the church.

I met with the pastor of the church, an older man who was an absolute gentleman and acommodating. He was open to letting me do this, and offered me the next few hours alone in the church to shoot as long as I didn't move or touch anything. He also politely asked if I was going to do anything horrible with the resulting images, and I assured him I would not. This was not exactly a lie - one of the things I decided to do was humanize the priest character, the focus on my concept. These men are not evil, they are not super-beings, and they are, despite their baffling vows and what they represent to the community, all too human.

The shoot never happened - it was a series of roadblocks I could not overcome at the time - not the least of which was locating actual, affordable priest clothing, which was apparently impossible. The other issue was the shots I took that day in this beautiful near-cathedral-like church. The interior shots were an exposure nightmare - exposing for the stained glass windows meant the walls and the floor were completely black, and exposing for the walls meant the windows were white-hot blowouts. Sure, I could have locked shots down with a tripod and taken two exposures, creating an HDR-like composite. But, and this is what was the deal-breaker, the look and processing of my imagery did not translate to such detailed and literal backgrounds - they rely on certain techniques and backgrounds and the look I was getting with these church interiors was dull and artificial.

Nine months later I found the priest costume and shot some images with model Felix P. This is one, and like my intentions nine months ago, I did not want to paint my priest evil or nefarious just for shock value. This one is a simple portrait of a weary man. I wanted it simple and abstract, lending itself to whatever the viewer sees in it. But, I did manage to finally use one of the church interiors as a background, and I used my newly created orbs as an abstract depiction of the rosary beads, ten to be exact, to represent the ten hail marys of a "decade" of the mediation. Reading up on the rosary for this one, I learned about its history and its uses, but growing up, I just remember them given as penance after confession.

So here is my priest, world weary, worn down and decaying from listening to all the fear and ugliness coming at him from the penitents, day after day, The beads are rising up and out of him, drifting off ineffectual because the sins keep on coming, and the penances seem to do nothing to stop it. Perhaps feeling like an ATM machine dispensing forgiveness has made our man of the cloth lose his faith, or at least question his role in it. I tucked two serpents into the walls of the church just to keep a representation of sin ever-present, even in this holy place.

The title pertains to one of the groups of Mysteries focused on when using the Rosary, the Sorrowful ones being mainly about the torturing and death of Christ.

a before and after version of this image is available on my Facebook page:

model: Felix P.

Tags: Specialist and abstract Digitally manipulated Digital art Portraits and people Flash and lighting

Voters: ignasi, Daisymaye, carmenfuchs and 6 more

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bluesandtwos 11 521 1 England
8 Jul 2013 5:56AM
Remarkable, both the picture and the reasoning behind it. Undoubtably your work, brilliant!


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