Saint Vincent Photo Exhibit Reveals the Private Side of Monastic Life
Among the lesser-known works of famed 20th-century photographer, author and filmmaker Gordon Parks is a series of photos taken for a 1955 “Life” magazine photo essay documenting life among the monks of St. Benedict’s Abbey in Atchison, Kan.
Parks’ 30 photos will be paired with the work of Pittsburgh-based photographer Dominick McDuffie in an exhibit called “Worship + Work,” from June 16 through August 16. 19 at the Verostko Center for the Arts at Saint Vincent College.
Parks’ essay, “A Cloistered Life of Devotion,” gave readers insight into the mid-century American Benedictine community by documenting their daily routines of prayer, work, study, leisure, and rest. .
McDuffie did the same for modern members of the Benedictine monastery on the Unity campus.
Growing up in Kansas City, Andrew Julo, curator and director of the Verostko Center, was familiar with Parks’ collection of pictures from the Abbey, as they had been framed in a gallery where he once worked. He had also visited Saint Benedict on an educational outing with his Catholic elementary school.
Julo contacted the Abbey for a loan of the photos, proposing an exchange of works from the Saint Vincent collection.
He met McDuffie at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, where the 28-year-old photographer ran a workshop in tandem with the museum’s Teenie Harris Archive, and offered him a commission to create images for “Worship + Work.”
“There are parallels between Parks and Dominick, given that they both started photographing in their twenties, they both got their first cameras from a pawn shop, and they were both self-taught,” Julo said.
McDuffie specializes in documenting underrepresented communities.
“(Parks) was one of my first steps into photography, learning about his work and also being a black photographer,” said McDuffie, who has a residency at Boom Concepts Studios and the Artist Resource Center in Garfield. “His work is super-iconic. I was a little nervous being in the same space as his work, but it put pressure on me to make my images look the best they could.
A different world
McDuffie made long and repeated visits to the monks of Saint Vincent.
“At the beginning, we had a visit and I was able to meet different monks, sit down and have a meal. It was an icebreaker,” he said. “During this time, I was talking to several people and I was going to different areas of the campus. It gave me different perspectives and more opportunities to get some of their stories, their family history and how they became monks.
“It was very interesting because it was a totally different world that I was exposed to.”
By spending time with the monks in their private spaces, Julo said, McDuffie was doing the same thing Parks would have done.
“Part of (McDuffie’s) process was to be a fly on the wall at times in the monastery that people don’t normally see, in places that are essentially off-limits to the public,” Julo said. “He talked about the process of getting to know people, making them feel comfortable around him, which leads to better photos.”
Like Parks, McDuffie worked with a 35mm camera and black and white film, but there was no attempt to imitate the master’s work.
“It’s not a project in which he creates mimesis. He wasn’t trying to create a re-representation, but something that had visual similarities,” Julo said. “Black and white is probably the major continuity.”
“Work + Worship” will kick off with a reception from 4-7 p.m. on June 16 at the Verostko Center on the second floor of the Dale P. Latimer Library.
The exhibit will be open to the public during Verostko Center summer hours, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday and by appointment. Visits can be arranged by emailing [email protected]
When Julo returns the photos of the parks to Saint-Benoît Abbey, he will also provide a loan of 19th-century architectural drawings from the Saint-Vincent collection – two of which actually depict Saint-Benoît.
“There is a system of Jesuit colleges and galleries that communicate with each other, and I’m interested in us having these deeper conversations between the different Benedictine institutions and having more of these exhibits,” he said. . “Everyone has these treasures and interesting things, and it’s good for us to be able to share them and expose them to an audience that wouldn’t normally see them.”
For more information, visit verostkocenter.org.