by Denis Haack (for the Arts Team)
I take pictures to be reminded, reminded of a family vacation in the Boundary Waters or a great evening with friends or a romantic evening. The photos don’t change me; they are records of the past, reminders of what went on, cues of what happened.
Some of them become precious over time, like the ones of my Aunt Ruth, my closest aunt who I watched die over several long years from Alzheimer’s. The pictures of her remind me of the hours we spent at the beach, or the long winter evenings we spent reading as her old radiators popped and snapped and groaned. In some of the pictures she is frowning, since she was a curmudgeon, and was glad to grump about all sorts of things that displeased her—and lots of things did. She is gone now and the pictures remind me of what was but is no more.
The pictures of Christopher Roth, hanging in the Gallery space in Church of the Cross don’t serve as reminders for me. For one thing, I didn’t take them so they aren’t rooted in my life, and I don’t think I’ve been to a single place they depict. Instead, they change me.
Each one is accompanied by a text of Scripture. The relationship between photo and text isn’t necessarily obvious. In some cases Roth chose the text to make a pun, in some cases the text illumines a deeper meaning in the picture, and in other cases they make us think in new ways about ordinary things. And as I reflect on them I am changed, just a bit. Changed in how I see what the Bible says, changed in how I see things like trees and buildings and signs, and changed in how I am made aware that there is always more to see if only I’ll pause and look and reflect.
Take this one, for example. It’s a bleak view, a blasted landscape that looks deadly and dead, a place of rot and bad smells and things gone very wrong. It was taken at the Salton Sea in California, a place I have never visited but assume is not a popular tourist destination. The text of Scripture Roth uses as its title is Psalm 46:2:
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.
Alone the photo is unwelcoming, dreary and hopeless. With the text, however, the vision is suddenly hopeful. The world is broken, no doubt about it, and there are places like the Salton Sea that need restoration to reverse the decay and restore its beauty. But even if we fail in that, the Psalm reminds us that someone greater than the cosmos exists and has told us not to be afraid. He has not abandoned his world and will not, and the cross and empty tomb are the proof.
Sometimes the brokenness seems too much to bear. It’s at that moment that I need to look again at the Salton Sea in all its putrefaction, see it with utter realism and be reminded that this is not the end of the story. The final chapter has not yet been composed, and it is the coming Redeemer King that will write it.
And seeing those together I am changed, from discouragement to hope. And that’s a change I cherish.
If you haven’t wasted a bit of time in the Gallery at Cross, I hope you do so. Pictures can change us.