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Title: Ministers of 'the Black Art' : the engagement of British clergy with photography, 1839-1914
Author: Downs, J.
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2019
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This thesis examines the work of ordained clergymen, of all denominations, who were active photographers between 1839 and the beginning of World War One: its primary aim is to investigate the extent to which a relationship existed between the religious culture of the individual clergyman and the nature of his photographic activities. Ministers of 'the Black Art' makes a significant intervention in the study of the history of photography by addressing a major weakness in existing work. Taking an interdisciplinary approach, the research draws on a wide range of primary and secondary sources such as printed books, sermons, religious pamphlets, parish and missionary newsletters, manuscript diaries, correspondence, notebooks, biographies and works of church history, as well as visual materials including original glass plate negatives, paper prints and lantern slides held in archival collections, postcards, camera catalogues, photographic ephemera and photographically-illustrated books. Through close readings of both textual and visual sources, my thesis argues that factors such as religious denomination, theological opinion and cultural identity helped to influence not only the photographs taken by these clergymen, but also the way in which these photographs were created and used. Conversely, patterns also emerge that provide insights into how different clergymen integrated their photographic activities within their wider religious life and pastoral duties. The relationship between religious culture and photographic aesthetics explored in my thesis contributes to a number of key questions in Victorian Studies, including the tension between clergy and professional scientists as they struggled over claims to authority, participation in debates about rural traditions and church restoration, questions about moral truth and objectivity, as well as the distinctive experience and approaches of Roman Catholic clergy. The research thus demonstrates the range of applications of clerical photography and the extent to which religious factors were significant. Almost 200 clergymen-photographers have been identified during this research, and biographical data is provided in an appendix. Ministers of the Black Art aims at filling a gap in scholarship caused by the absence of any substantial interdisciplinary research connecting the fields of photohistory and religious studies. While a few individual clergymen-photographers have been the subject of academic research - perhaps excessively in the case of Charles Dodgson - no attempt has been made to analyse their activities comprehensively. This thesis is therefore unique in both its far-ranging scope and the fact that the researcher has a background rooted in both theological studies and the history of photography. Ecclesiastical historians are generally as unfamiliar with the technical and aesthetic aspects of photography as photohistorians are with theological nuances and the complex variations of Victorian religious beliefs and practices. This thesis attempts to bridge this gulf, making novel connections between hitherto disparate fields of study. By bringing these religious factors to the foreground, a more nuanced understanding of Victorian visual culture emerges; by taking an independent line away from both the canonical historiography of photography and more recent approaches that depict photography as a means of social control and surveillance, this research will stimulate further discussion about how photography operates on the boundaries between private and public, amateur and professional, material and spiritual.
Supervisor: Plunkett, J. Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: photography ; theology ; visual culture ; church history ; history of photography ; Victorian studies ; clergy