Portraying the last few hours of Christ’s life has absorbed some of the greatest artists, yet it could be said that the photographic depiction of the Passion started around 1400 A.D. with breathtaking originality with The Shroud of Turin. Whilst it is a very powerful icon, the Catholic Church has never asserted formally that it was the cloth that wrapped Christ.
Now into the 21st century and perhaps some 600 years on, there seems to be little appetite for photography to be used in religious iconography and even acceptance of it as an artistic medium sometimes seems grudging. It should not be forgotten that Leonardo Da Vinci spent years searching the streets of Milan for his Christ and Judas in The Last Supper. And who are we looking at in the Stations of the Cross in Westminster Cathedral if not the kith and kin of the Gills?
Using the Gospels as source material for the narrative (whereas the Catholic Church’s Stations of the Cross makes significant departures from the text) this Passion starts with the Conspiracy of the Sanhedrin and ends with a new photographic shroud - a two metre negative on photographic linen, (though only a detail image is in this edition).
Along the way, there is the reaction of the twelve to Christ’s revelation that he is to be betrayed, the moment that Judas kissed Christ and the hesitation of Pilate. There is only one departure from the Gospel narrative, namely the Vera Icon , or the Veronica, reputedly, the cloth bearing the impression of the face of Christ. This has been recreated in that way using photographic materials.
This Passion, not only amplifies, photographically, a work some 600 years of age, but uses the attribute of photography to turn the viewer into voyeur. Brought face to face with the conspirators we are invited to participate. We protest our innocence whilst Judas slips away. We hesitate with Pilate, before washing our hands. We show our anger as one of the mob. Uniquely, I believe, in this Passion, the same person is used for all images as all are self-portraits. For we all have the capacity to be the conspirator, the Judas, the torturer, the Peter, the Pilate or the Christ. Only free will sets each one apart.
Passion was exhibited at The Crypt Gallery, St Pancras Church, London from 18 March - 4 April 2010. A previous version was first exhibited at the Phoenix Art Gallery, Brighton 2001.