Dear Bible Society
I’m writing this open letter to ask you to reconsider your approach to photography and the Bible, as suggested by the above poster. You ask for the public to send in photographs to enable you to produce a 2014 Scripture Calendar, with the aim of matching inspirational Bible verse to image. You offer something of a suggestion as to how this calendar will look with 3 examples, though you leave room for development with ‘actual design will vary’. You exclude any details of how the photographer will be credited, nor any terms of copyright, nor how and for how much the calendar will be distributed.
I am deeply concerned by various assumptions seemingly made by this advertisement. You are an organisation founded to promote the Bible, and your strength has always been your serious engagement with contemporary media and culture. Among other things, you spearhead pioneering work in raising the profile and quality of film-making that embraces biblical stories, you produced an outstanding calendar last year that demonstrated the skill and professionalism of textile art on the theme of creation, and you currently support myself and others with a studentship that encourages a greater and deeper engagement with education and academia (in my case, a PhD in photography and theology at the University of Gloucestershire).
Yet for this promotion, you are asking for the simplest level of media understanding, coupled with transparently personal interpretations of the Bible. Such expressions, more usually seen in powerpoint presentations in churches, or as devotional tokens in Christian bookshops, undoubtedly have their value and place – afterall, we all respond emotionally to images and text, and are all able to think creatively about such things. However, for your organisation, it demonstrates a worrying acceptance of sentimentality and amateurism in a public, media-savvy sphere which demands more from the message. Assuming the calendar is produced primarily to fit in with the mission aims of the society (and not for ‘in-house’ circulation only), this calendar will not stand up to the quality of your other work, will fail to honour the professions of photography and art, and will ultimately cheapen the integrity and depth of the Bible itself.
I would implore you to rethink your approach to this calendar, to the type of work you will look for and to the quality of its presentation. Do not assume the easy appropriation of photographs for a quick spiritual return.