Chapter 27. Where the Signs Show
A man came up to the Lord and asked him, “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him: “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come and follow me.”
There is, of course, as photographers the ever temptation to take pictures of the pleasurable, the attractive, even sensual, “studium”. Perhaps much of this could be self-indulgence. Of course, Aquinas says we play and take leisure to rest, so that we can work better, and so some of that is appropriate.
But if we give up some of that, and focus on the “punctum”, those images that matter and that arrest our practical intellect, then we begin to serve, and give to, the poor. And by the “poor” is not meant those who lack money, although these are included, but anyone who is deprived in some manner of the various basic goods. Thus Sabina Alkire, following John Finnis, defines poverty in a multi-dimensional manner, and not along a monistic axiology, as some economists do. So whether we highlight through negative contrasting images their plight, or enhance the grasping of the natural law which dictates we promote the basic goods, we promote the common goods, which the poor may then enjoy.
And if, by and by, we give up all the delightful, in the service of the ethical, then we can fulfill, even if mediately, or never-endingly, the injuction of the Lord, since as he says, the poor we will have with us always: there will always be those who lack the aspects of human flourishing in some way: life, truth, friendship, aesthetic experience, skillful play, marriage, religion and practical reasonableness.
But as if this, which already demands much virtue and secures much merit, is not complete, the Lord bids us to follow him. But how further shall we follow him? Well who will be better an example than the Lord’s best disciple, his own Mother, and ours, the Blessed Virgin Mary? And Mary does what she does best: point to Jesus, and to God’s existence. Thus also we must do: having exploited the affordances of photography for the enhancement of practical reasoning and the natural law, we are now to find how to design photography so that it might point to the Lord.
The metaphysics of being, which affirms the real composition of essence and existence in creaturely beings, and their participation of that existence from God, as Aquinas has developed, points all beings to God by way of the existential principle, esse. Photographers who are metaphysical poets must, as I have said above (see Chapter 26. Metaphysical Poets), shape signs that can assist the communication of that metaphysics. But how? This must be the subject of the next several meditations.
This much, however, appears evident. The photographer’s ontological epistemology is especially adequate to the metaphysician’s. The thomist metaphysician’s starting point is the common man’s point of view: which is that reality is true and there, present, and that there are beings. This however has been threatened by Cartesian skepticism, and the metaphysician is pressed to defend his starting point, which is now subject to doubt. But for the photographer, the Cartesian question, though respectable and indeed, necessarily rigorous and a worthy challenge – all that skepticism does not make sense. For him, being-in-the-world, outside of academia, the world is composed of beings, of which he is a part, engages with, and of the beings he makes pictures, and presents them as such. No one who sees his works will doubt that he sees real beings, and that significate is shared, communicated also to the viewer of that picture.
He looks at them, and takes them at face-value: he does not wonder if it exists – it does! It is a judgment he makes, that everything here is real and exists, and the images corroborate that judgment, and that it is not all a dream. It could be, but as a photographer, it would not make sense if it were. To borrow Marion, to be a photographer is to stand at that certain distance to see the Monet. Perhaps the right place is to stand 5 cm away, and there are no water lilies, but to be a photographer is to be like the man who stands at that place or distance where the lilies show; or better, where beings, which can be analyzed as composites of essence and existence, show, ergo, et cetera.
So in being a photographer, one sets the epistemic apriori’s for signing, metaphysically, the divine prima causa. We, have, even if naively, found the place to stand in order to begin to follow the signs, and in inviting others to join us, help them stand where the signs to God can show.