Monday, February 16, 2009

Does an Image Trump Location?

Jubilee Fellowship parishioner Mary Mitchum took it upon herself to give the church’s lectern a new shine. According to this Augusta Chronicle article, Mitchum stripped the old finish off and applied a new coat of varnish. As soon as she brought the lectern back to the church someone claimed to see Jesus in the wood grain: “There were two eyes, a nose, hair and maybe even a halo.”

Now, I don’t see much of anything in this photograph, but as regular readers know by now, it isn’t about what I see. What do you see? I’m guessing in this instance many of you won’t see much, but here is the story nonetheless, orbiting around in the 24-hour news cycle, a fleeting shooting star that only a handful of people may ever actually witness.

I’ve spent time in Augusta, Georgia, and even been to a church there, twice – once when my grandmother remarried and then again when she passed away, back in the mid-90s. She had moved there and on more than one occasion I spent several weeks on end in those hot, humid summers. We stayed with extended family and they had a pool so it wasn’t that bad, but those trips were the first time I realized just how different the country is depending on geography. With most of my family peppered around the northeastern part of the US, the funniest accent I had heard was an uncle’s “a”-heavy Boston speak. The drawls in Georgia can be syrupy, the same way people tend to move when the heat is at its fiercest.

Fact is, due to all sorts of circumstances, life is different in Augusta than it is in Philadelphia or Berkeley or Austin. And the same was true back when I was a kid first visiting places outside of the area where I grew up.

When I first endeavored this whole Madonna of the Toast project I had assumed that the stories would be limited in terms of geographical range. I was wrong, happily. While there are some geographic tendencies for these stories, namely areas heavily populated by Spanish-speaking populations (e.g. California, Texas), for the most part the stories favor the image over where the image is seen.

I haven’t really fleshed this idea out yet, but I haven’t thought about Augusta, Georgia, in a while either. I haven’t been back there since that funeral, yet I still have strong associations with the place. These images of Jesus and Mary seem to transcend place on some level, which I guess is the true power of iconography.

More on this once I’ve thought about it more . . .

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