Sunday, March 2, 2014

Through a Glass, Darkly...

    I was making some photographic studies of a glass vase recently. I was fascinated by the distortions, shadows and reflections; the way the light shifted and altered  my perception of the glass form.  For some reason, it triggered a memory of the 1961 film by Ingmar Bergman, Through a Glass Darkly.   I decided to go looking for the reference.

 (BTW, this film won the 1962 Academy Award for best foreign film and is the first made by Bergman in his trilogy on faith.  The other two films are Winter Light and The Silence. All three films were required viewing in my college class on the history of film.  They all seemed to resonate with me after this winter's reflections and I decided to watch them again.  I'm so glad I did.  They are stunning films.) 

   My, was I surprised at how often, and in so many ways, this phrase has been used.  In film, in prose, in music, in poetry, and even as titles of television series episodes this phrase, "through a glass darkly", has inspired generations.  I wondered at its origin and found it refers to a biblical quotation, 1 Corithians 13:12,

For now we see through
a glass, darkly.

      What is it about this phrase that fascinates?  Does it have meaning for the contemplative photographer?  I think the answer to the first questions is found in the inherent truth of it.  What we think we can "see" is never the entire truth of anything.  It is all smoke and mirrors.  It can really be nothing else because so much lies buried beneath.
   The answer to the second question is self-evident.  We trust the camera's lens to be the ultimate arbitrator of the truth but is it, really?  More questions.  

   This is an excellent jumping off point for the contemplative photographer.  What we seek to see, be it divine presence or perfect perception, is a mere shadow.  Turn the glass and the images shift and alter, subtle it is in life as well.

“What a fool I was! and yet, in the sight of angels, are we any wiser as we grow older? It seems to me, only, that our illusions change as we go on; but, still, we are madmen all the same.”
― Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, In a Glass Darkly


kimmanleyort said...

Oh yes, this line "through a glass, darkly" really points to what contemplative photography is all about. There is always more to see. Everything is a mere shadow of the whole. I'll be reflecting on this one for awhile. Thank you Patricia.

Patricia Turner said...

I thought so too, Kim. In many respects, it is the best we can hope for. The important thing is to keep gazing into the darkness...