Photo and Compassion

© Thierry de Roucy

Fr. Thierry de Roucy

            There are ‘photo families’, I mean families where the least event is an opportunity to take lots of pictures. There are ‘photo mothers’, I mean mothers whose purse is full of pictures of their loved ones, which they spontaneously show to each and everyone they come across. There are ‘photo travelers’, people who, when they travel, spend more time behind their cameras than facing reality. I have to admit that, in the environment where I grew up, we were not very fond of photography. My mother had a camera from the time before she was engaged, which she used on very rare occasions. Every film would hibernate for a long time before it was finally developed. I believe that since then she never got any other camera than this one, which dates back to the 1950s. I come from a family where we value gross reality more than pictures on paper, where the present is more important than remembrances or projects.

            As for myself, I had to wait until I started Heart’s Home to get my first camera and I only use it a little. I started to take some pictures as an answer to those who, when I was coming back from my trips, would criticize me for not taking any. “What? You did not take any pictures!” And I realized pictures were a good way to introduce the future Heart’s Home missionaries to their place of mission and to the faces who would welcome them―from the bishop to our neighbors to show the members of my community who did not travel as much as I did some pictures of our new missions, to offer some illustrations to the audiences of the testimonies I would give or the readers of our articles.

I have to admit that, little by little, I realized it was important to do more than just develop some portraits and shoot landscapes as I was passing by. Basic photo-souvenirs as well as photo-information would not satisfy me any more. When I saw how much joy I gave to those whose picture I was taking; and how much interest the same pictures aroused amongst those who were watching them afterwards, I realized the importance of the very act of taking a picture. It is actually not a usual act, since it requires the photographer’s total gift of himself, as an answer to reality’s generous and long-term offering.

My pictures would have to become more genuine, I suddenly realized. Just like every photographer’s picture. A genuine picture is a picture which respects the art of photography―which in a sense is the most simple and direct of arts―it is a picture which reveals the closest intimacy of the reality it catches, and also tells the most perfectly about the one who takes it. Furthermore, I feel that retouched pictures, virtual pictures, pictures taken with multiple filters, pictures artificially posed lose their authenticity. To be genuine, a photo must be candid and taken in a simple way. Aiming at simplicity does not mean going for minimalism, like some architects or interior designers would put it. It means aiming at the simplicity of reality itself. This simplicity is sometimes hard to see and to reveal. It is the simplicity which we discover when we become simple, which is often when we are faced with death.

A photographer takes us into his gaze, his perception of reality. This is why there are superficial pictures, as there are superficial gazes, deep pictures as there are deep gazes, original pictures as there are original gazes, dramatic pictures as there are dramatic gazes. Moreover, a photographer takes us into his heart, his soul, into the relationship he has with every being. Through his work, the objects or the scene he fixes, the photographer, without knowing it, tells us about the hope or despair that inhabits him, his bitterness or mercy, his trust or fears, his passion.

Every genuine picture is beautiful to me. Whether it represents the desert at sunset or children working on a garbage dump. Whether it shows lavishness or extreme suffering, because, in a way, every genuine picture tells me about He who is the Truth, who is the Glory of the Father, who is All-in-all, whether it has the face of the Transfigured or of the Crucified

In this sense, at Heart’s Home, every picture is a treasure, since it hints at a life, a friendship, a story, a trust and a hope, since it also expresses a gift of God, a charism, a gaze on reality which is greater than our own gaze. Since it displays the passion, the generosity, the gift of the photographer. I want to take the time to look at every picture I am shown, I don’t want to turn the pages of a magazine or of the albums of the missionaries too fast. All this is so precious. I would like to keep saying “Stop” when I see the Heart’s Home slide shows. “Not so fast, please”. I would like to have enough time to offer every face up to God, to let you love everyone of them, to give thanks for the lives of our friends, for the history of our friendship with them.

Last March, as we wanted to share this treasure, we organized a photography show and sale in New York. In a city where galleries are numerous, where there are loads of professional photographers, it was a challenge. These pictures had been taken with a very basic camera. They had been developed in a very modest way, since we lacked funding. They had been taken by photographers who are not professionals. But visitors came who spent a long time in front of every one of our pictures. Some bought our work and it makes us happy to think that although these patrons could not go around the world to meet our friends, they would receive a visit from them, through these pictures; more than that, that our friends, would come to stay with them and become part of their families. Strange Mystery. For the last few decades man has had an unceasing desire to evaluate, program, quantify. Equations bring peace to man. They give him the feeling of somehow mastering the past and the future, people and societies, events and disasters. But their development might be proportionate to the loss of religious sense. Mathematics indeed belong to man; Mystery to God!

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