Last night, my husband and I went to the Sumter Little Theatre to see Agnes of God. It isn’t a “feel good” play or a lighthearted comedy that typically draws a huge crowd. It is, however, a play well worth seeing. It is about a young nun that gives birth in a convent. There are only three characters, the young nun, the Mother Superior, and a psychiatrist. The young nun has no memory of the conception or the delivery. She is a naïve, young girl who grew up in a very sheltered, but also abusive, home; the Mother Superior wants desperately to believe in miracles; and the psychiatrist is atheist. Without giving away too much of the story, I think that I can safely say that the play challenges the beliefs of the audience as the beliefs of the characters in the play are challenged.
So what does this have to do with abstract photography, you ask. Well, possibly nothing. But as I was watching the play and contemplating the rather small crowd in the theater, I was reminded of my personal experience with abstract art. Before I returned to graduate school, I really didn’t like abstract art. I had no appreciation for it at all. And then, I ended up spending four years of my life photographing abstract water reflections. You really can’t do something like that for four years and not enjoy it. I actually loved every minute of it. My point is that without exposure to new or different things, we don’t understand them and we consequently don’t like them.
Plays like Agnes of God are often misunderstood because the potential audience doesn’t know anything about them and therefore decides in advance that they won’t like it. But they would be wrong. I don’t think there was a single person in the audience who did not love the play. It made us think. It made us consider why we believe or don’t believe what we do or do not believe. It made us question our demand for scientific explanations for everything rather than believing or hoping for miracles. It addressed memory and repression as a way of dealing with traumatic events. Agnes of God is not about Catholicism or the Catholic church. While two of the three characters are Catholic nuns, the questions of faith, memory, and miracles are questions that we all wrestle with at various times in our lives.
Our lives are enriched when we are exposed to art of all forms. That includes plays like Agnes of God as well as abstract photography. There really isn’t a good definition of abstract art. One of my favorite quotes is from John Suler, PhD, when he attempts to define abstract photography: "Here’s the acid test: If you look at a photo and there’s a voice inside you that says “What is it?”…. Well, there you go. It’s an abstract photograph." In Photographic Psychology: Image and Psyche, Suler discusses how the abstract photographer reduces perceivable objects to colors, textures and patterns, leaving the original objects no longer discernable. One leaves the familiar and “enter(s) the more primordial realm of the purely visual.” It is like zooming in so close to an object that what is left is no longer seen as a part of that original thing being photographed. That part is “abstracted” from the whole.
And so it is with Agnes of God. It “zooms in” on questions of faith, miracles, memory and sainthood, abstracting those issues from the overall lives of the characters in the play and ultimately in our lives, as well. And as we experience this abstracted view of the human experience through these characters, our lives are enriched.