Observance is a series of long exposure portraits and soundscapes of people from a wide spectrum of spiritual practices. Sitters were photographed for a fifteen second exposure, each looking into the lens in a state of prayer. The soundscape comprises the chants, songs, and whispers of the same sitters.
Long exposures hark back to the beginnings of photography, when film was slow and shutter-speeds long. It was the time of spirit photography, where it was commonly believed that a photograph could capture ones soul, or communicate with the dead. Contemporary knowledge would argue this is impossible, that a photograph is nothing more than a mechanical process involving chemicals and light. Yet some portraits seem to have an ability to convey more than just a two dimensional representation of skin and bone. I experienced this when, in the hills of Nepal in 2003, I made a series of portraits of Tibetan Lama’s. On my return to London a curator responded to one particular portrait, saying she could feel the energy of the Lama, as if she were in his presence. The seeds of Observance began then, with a suspicion that a powerful image is capable of connecting people across time and space in a way that is visceral and real.
Throughout history religions have tapped into this possibility, where imagery has played an important role in many faiths. Often followers possess an image of their leader, their guru, or their teacher - they have them on their walls, on their altars or tattered in a wallet. In circumstances of religious intolerance, to possess such an image can put ones life at risk. Why do people put such faith in the power of a photograph? What can an image hold that is so precious?
Observance raises these questions, and explores how a sense of connection is created through an image, particularly with the sitter gazing out of the frame. This has long been recognized in the art of icon painting, a practice which follows strict spiritual procedures and visual parameters - figures are depicted dominant in the frame, therefore bringing them into direct relationship with the viewer.
This direct engagement is a central theme of Observance. Discoveries in biology and quantum mechanics suggest that one's thoughts and vision may extend out from the mind in the form of measurable energetic fields to resonate with, and affect, the observed. With this in mind, each portrait was made with the sitter large in the frame, projecting their inner experience directly into the lens through the act of looking. The fifteen-second exposure provided the window through which the film could capture not only the light, but also potentially this energy.
Consequently these portraits are not split seconds decided upon and captured by the photographer to reveal something of a character. Rather they are an intimate intention unfolding over time, creating an opportunity for a more balanced meeting between the observer and the observed.
Individually the images explore the possibility of visually conveying the internal activity of the sitter, and how this might affect a viewer’s response. Seen as a whole (there are almost 100 images and sounds in total) the work compounds, allowing distance from the individual experience. The resulting collective sense of humanity’s enduring search for meaning points towards the veneer that is difference.
Brahma Kumaris, Buddhism (including Tibetan), Bektashism, Catholicism, Christianity, Christian Science, Franciscan, Paganism, Jainism, Jedi, Lutheranism, Islam, Sikhism, Hinduism, Hare Krishna, traditional Polynesian, Judaism, Jedi, Shinto, Shamanism, Sufism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism.
South Africa, India, Britain, Japan, Nigeria, Kenya, France, Mexico, Kurdistan, Peru, Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Australia, America, Nepal, Ghana, Syria, West Indies, Singapore, Albania, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Sweden, Bolivia, Pakistan, Canada, Cambodia, Slovenia, Indonesia, Jordan, Guatemala, Trinidad and Tobago, Holland, Uganda, Thailand, Iran, Sudan, Kuwait, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, New Zealand.