Photographing Christian Religious Art in India

A copper relief of Jesus Christ, in an idyllic setting, on St. Thomas Mount in Chennai, India.

One of the things I love photographing is religious artwork. I’d say that I’m drawn, pretty much, equally to stain glass windows in a christian church as I am to a buddhist statue or mandala or a mural exploring Hinduism.

Light the Great Communicator

While the story being explored is interesting it’s the compositional elements (e.g., color, shape, texture) within the work and the luminosity contained that attracts my attention. It’s that sense of light that seems, somehow, to point to the transcendent nature in all things that I find most compelling.

Belief or Experience?

Let me state that again. The scenes depicted are interesting, as is the historical and cultural significance of the religion associated with the artwork in question. But it’s the transforming and transcendental nature of the light that brings me as close to religious observance as I’m likely to get these days. My point is that you do not have to be religious to be spiritual. As the saying goes

”We are not human beings having a spiritual experience;
We are spiritual beings having a human existance.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Photography Keeps Memories Alive

The above photo was made on St. Thomas Mount, on the outskirts of Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu in Southern India. My mum, Mary Guy, has had a long association with charitable work in India and, together with Kolkata (e.g., Calcutta) in East Bengal, St. Thomas Mount and the nearby village of Maria Purem (actually named after my mother) were places which I remember her talking about when I was very young. As my mum is now in her mid eighties I decided that my most recent trip to India should be based around visits to these three places.

Said to be near the site where St. Thomas the Apostle was martyred, St. Thomas Mount is a very peaceful place. Right on top of the mount is the St. Thomas Mount National Shrine and a lovely chapel. Right next door to the chapel is a lovely kindergarten given to the care of young children billeted there by their parents until they are old enough to attend primary school.

Photographing on St. Thomas Mount

The above photo is, quite obviously, an idealized scene of Jesus surrounded by young children. The artwork is on a large copper sheet on one of the walls of the church. I was immediately drawn to its luminous quality and could see, in my mind’s eye, that by rendering the work into black and white that the shapes and textures would be emphasized.

The photo was processed in Adobe Lightroom and then brought into Adobe Photoshop CC for a few final touches and a literally sprinkling of fairy dust.

My Previous Photography Folios

Over the years I’ve photographed a great deal of religious artwork, most of it in Asia. Up until recent years photos of statues, temples and murals were as significant in my portfolio as landscape and portraiture. In fact it largely underpinned my Masters in Art (photography) which I completed in the mid 90’s. As so much of this early work was film based I can only add it to this site a little at a time. So, in addition to lots of new projects, you can expect to see film based images from as far back as the early 90’s appearing on this site from time to time over coming years.

Photographing Cemeteries eBook

To see much of my most recent religious artwork, in context, you should check out my Photographing Cemeteries eBook. It features cemeteries on five continents and includes a range of technical and opinion based essays that explore the process behind the project. It’s very much the artist’s journey written to help you find your own creative path in life. I’m sure you’ll find it both information rich and highly inspirational. And please, let me know what you think. 

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru