Light Writing

Imagine a lamb in the trees, literally a few feet away from Tsarigradsko Shose, the main thoroughfare linking Sofia city centre and the airport, in a part of the forest (spectacularly beautiful by the way, with tunnels of sunlit trees and a circle of darkness showing the exit) where people go to have illicit liaisons. Imagine a tree, the tree of life, on the way to Kokalyane Monastery that on another day, at another time, would have passed unnoticed, clad in ordinariness. Imagine a tree peeping out of the mist, with a ladder propped on the roof of a spa hotel in Velingrad that looks like a road, but an hour later would have looked like a series of rusty bars and supports.

Each photograph is a gift but, unlike a vision, it lasts. There is a strange paradox, as so often with the things of Christ, between the English word camera (camera obscura, which means dark room) and photography (which means light writing). We try to write down the light using a dark room. I was going to say that a photograph allows you to see things you wouldn’t normally see. If I hadn’t been looking through the viewfinder, I’m not sure I would have spotted the lamb or the tree of life. The camera teaches us. In the case of frescos, it not only shows us things we wouldn’t have seen (in the darkness of a disused church, for example), it enables us to go back to them time and time again, to elicit new things. A photograph is a vision that lasts.

While it is perhaps the limits of the digital screen that show us things, for me photography is all about transcending the limits, going to the space in between. This is what a translator does. He lives on the margins, between one culture and another, and translates texts from one language into another. He sews the line like a wound. So, in photography, I centre on the subject and then veer to the left or the right, to the space in between, where nature is at work to express herself and out of the light to make a negative. In this way, we go from define (the limits) to divine.

It is the same with individual figures such as the exquisite Gabriel and Michael or the perplexed Christ. What makes these images strong is that they’re cut, you cannot see around them. Here I am working inside the limits.

For me, the purpose of life is to translate beauty. Beauty is love. If it’s not love, it’s ugliness. This is the greatest thing we can do. There is nothing we create. God did not ask Adam to make the animals, he asked him to name them, to give them meaning and, in the process, to find meaning himself. This is what I try to do with my photographs.


This text and fifteen photographs by Jonathan Dunne first appeared in the spring 2009 issue of the Bulgarian magazine Hristiyantsvo i Kultura