Chapter 12. A Brady-Bunch: Fishers of Men

Semiosic transubstantiations, as I mean it, occur when we re-shape a sign. We make it a sign of something it previously was not a sign of. The camera, I suggested earlier, and photography as a whole, can be transubstantiated this way. Designers, for example, speak of exploiting the ‘affordances’—possible uses—of something; in semiosically transubstantiating ‘photography’, we are exploring, experimenting with and exploiting the many possible affordances of everything that could possibly come under that term.

Previously I spoke of the affordances of photography for raising ethical consciousness amongst other things. But I now also realize how photography and things related to it could be semiosically transubstantiated for raising one’s religious consciousness. Since I am a natural law theorist, and that means that for me, religion and ethics have a tight conceptual connection, in this chapter I will explore photography’s semiosic affordances for something of a more theological nature.

Since having gotten my camera, I’ve been exploring what I need, from a functional point of view, for transporting it. Naturally a camera bag comes to mind. Looking about, I came across a much recommended brand of bags called “Billingham”. These bags, I’ve been told, are of very good quality, and are very expensive. But they also have a kind of history: original Billingham bags were trout fishing bags, which photographers found useful for putting their gear in given that these were water-proof. I finally settled on another brand of bags called Brady Bags. These were also trout fishing bags to start with and later evolved into camera bags. They look somewhat like Billingham’s, but retain more of the trout fishing bag shape. In fact the story seems to be that Billingham was originally a leather cutter for Brady, before he started out on his own.

Now the idea of using a camera bag like this was attractive to me, for several reasons. Apart from quality and the comfort of knowing that my Leica was safe from rain and dust, I was most happy with the fact that I was carrying, in a sense, at the end of the day, a kind of fishing bag – indeed a fishing bag that had been modified into a camera bag. The thought came to me that, such a fishing/camera bag could be a sign of what I was up to: using photography to lure men to good thoughts, or at least to invite them to reflect critically about their surroundings, or to grasp ethical or theological ideals. To some extent I was, to quote Jesus, fishing men, and hence a “fisher of men”. Appropriately therefore, my fishing/camera bag was like a habit, a sign to the world.

Such infinite semiosis relating the fishing/camera bag to the fulfillment of a religious or moral apostolate must be very private and probably would not have much travel. But we do have to start somewhere; the Franciscan habit was something simply ordinary in St Francis’ time – a garb poor people in his day wore, and what makes the habit of the Jesuits was simply the ordinary cloak of the Parisian University scholar where St Ignatius and St Francis Xavier were studying. Perhaps the point is not so much to sign to the world what one does, but to remind ourselves, as we put on this habit, of what we should be committed to. And though I have not yet convinced anyone to take me too seriously on these thoughts, that does not prevent me from imagining how one day, there might be a Brady-bunch, a group of fishing-bag touting photographers who make it a point to ongoingly study and use photography as a lure to catch men, and to lead them to what is good, just and excellent.