Iconocrisis: Prologue and Preface

“Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.” –Jesus, John 20:29

“I say we had best look our times and lands searchingly in the face, like a physician diagnosing some deep disease.” –Walt Whitman, Democratic Vistas

Eleven years ago I left society. That, at least, was what many people thought I was doing, myself included. After over a year of failing to maintain a satisfying relationship with college and California, I decided to go up to Alaska, to Spruce Island, to live in a monastery. In many ways my decision was indeed a kind of social clearing for myself—in clichéd (but true) secular terms, a chance to lose the world and find myself; in hackneyed (but true) religious terms, an opportunity to retreat and discern. And indeed, there would be times when I would find the always possible but increasingly remote reality of sacramental living, where the spirit breathes steadily through earth, and the still small voice thrums loudly in the solitary ear.

(Icon Bay, Spruce Island. Photo: John Adams/Wikipedia.)

But in another sense, my retreat away from society was just as much a sojourn into new ones. Continue reading “Iconocrisis: Prologue and Preface”


Roger Deakins: Cinematic Iconographer

“The eye comes first.” – St. Theodore of Studios

“Does the story tell without sound?” – Conrad Hall


This Sunday saw the long overdue Oscar win for one of modern cinema’s greatest cinematographers, Roger Deakins. His almost unending snubbing seemed emblematic of the director of photography’s usual plight as the unsung hero of a movie’s success. After all, without cinematography there would be no visual story, which is to say there would be no movie. We the viewing public too often take cinematographers for granted as we take cameras for granted, and yet it is thanks to their keen sight and careful positioning that we forget the latter completely and so immediately believe the story coming to live before us. But even if after Sunday night he had still not received his much-deserved recognition—that is, even if the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had still not come to its senses after fourteen opportunities—Deakins’s legacy would have remained already firmly established. In Deakins, the role of cinematographer, usually “one of the most obscure members of the production team, responsible for all the visual elements of the film,”[1] has risen to an auteur status. He is the unseen author of the silent stories we see and believe and carry with us long after we have left the theater or screen. His images leave a certain special imprint in the viewer, develop memories of a vicarious experience they otherwise would not have had. Continue reading “Roger Deakins: Cinematic Iconographer”


[For my mother.]

In the past year or so the word “great” has gained a peculiar currency. That currency may be starting to wane, at present, but I have continued to wonder what the term means for myself and others. For at least nine months I have been asking myself what greatness really looks like.

And what have I found? Continue reading “Greatness”