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Book review: Letting Photos Speak: Visio Divina and other approaches to contemplative photography by Stephen J. Radley, Philip J. Richter, and Andy J. Lindley

26 January 2024

Jennie Hogan on being an attentive snapper

WE ARE arguably all photographers now, snapping pictures in every kind of place. Moments, objects, and people are captured on our phones in ways that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. We may seem so awash with them that it can be easy to overlook their value, not least in the ways in which they may contribute to faith and the life of prayer.

Nevertheless, three authors, all clergy and keen photographers, offer an original, accessible, and yet also genuinely inspiring approach to bringing God into our pictures, no matter how everyday the photographs may first appear.

In five engaging chapters, in which the ancient and the modern seem to marry effortlessly, we are encouraged in various and innovative ways, not to turn off our phones in order to pray, but to stay with our screens and experience the divine there. With this in mind, therefore, photos are not merely things, but gifts to enable contemplation and growth.

The authors’ first approach is to employ the tools of mindfulness, and they skilfully integrate Christian theology. Further, the tradition of visio divina, placing the eyes of the heart in prayer, is brought up to date with the use of photos rather than icons.

Fascinating and encouraging reflections on how prayer and the knowledge of God may be enriched though photography are offered throughout. The intention is to move from snapping and looking, towards gaining insight through careful attention to photos. Practical exercises accompany chapters. One exercise simply suggests looking at a seemingly ordinary photo and finding beauty there.

Medieval forms of prayer, notably with the Book of Hours, in which paint aids prayer, are ingeniously replaced with digital photos in the final chapter. The creation of a personal photo journal is convincingly shown to become not just a file on a computer, but, rather, a rich aid to devotion. Astonishingly, we can see how gazing at a screen can become a loving act of contemplation of God.

The Revd Jennie Hogan is a psychotherapist based in London. She is the author of This Is My Body: A story of sickness and health (Canterbury Press, 2017).

Letting Photos Speak: Visio Divina and other approaches to contemplative photography
Stephen J. Radley, Philip J. Richter, Andy J. Lindley
DLT £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.29

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