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Pictures on the wall

By Older1 ~


Perspective II, 1967

We lost our daughter to fundamentalism when she was a teenager, some 20 years ago. Since then we have had an understanding that we will agree to disagree, and we just don’t discuss religion. We have a strong relationship in spite of it, and we get together frequently. There is none of the strife that inflicts so many other families that are split by differing religious outlooks. My wife and I have recently provided significant financial and physical support to the family as they have adopted three disabled children all under the age of five, and we continue to visit regularly to baby sit and taxi the older children about town.

Our home is in a rural area and is way out of the way in respect to the daily travels of our daughter and her family so we didn’t really take much notice that her visits to us have diminished and that there always seemed to be a reason her children, our grandchildren, couldn’t come over.

But in a recent phone conversation with my wife, it has come out that our daughter and her husband object to two photographs on the walls of our home, and that they do not want their children to see them. Our daughter has asked that we take them down when they visit.

In the grand scheme of life, the issue is probably small potatoes. But I am nevertheless upset. If the images were bawdy, I would not object, but these are two important images in the world of photography. And they are not small prints on the mantle; one is the keystone image in the collection in our living room, a 16x20-inch print in a 24x30-inch frame. The other, at about 18x24 overall, is prominently displayed in our dining room. While the specific photos are irrelevant to the core issues, you may want to look them up to better understand the context. They are “Girl on Beach” by Wynn Bullock, and “Perspective II, 1967” by Ruth Bernhard. Any search engine will turn them up in an instant. The Bullock photo has been on our wall for about 15 years; the Bernhard for perhaps five.

Compounding this is that I spent my career in photography and these photographs are ones I am particularly fond of.

I have not yet responded to my daughter. My wife did, and while expressing her anger, agreed to remove the images. If I was the only one involved I would not have agreed to take them down, but the dynamics here are such that this is the way it will be. The Bullock print will come down and the other will be covered with a black drape.

So I am conflicted as to whether I should make a separate response or not say anything at all. There really is nothing I could say that would change the outcome. I know my daughter and they will not come over if the pictures are on the wall. She is not open to discussion or debate. Her mind is made up and that is the end of it.

But another part of me does not want to remain silent. I have drafted a response, which is below. Your thoughts are welcome.

Note: The boys I refer to below are her sons, ages 11 and 13. Also, you will note that my concluding paragraph uses a Christian context for argument. I’ve learned that the only real way to connect with Christians is to use language they understand.

I have waited a while to respond to your request about the photographs on display in our home, because I wanted to give my thoughts a time to coalesce. And now that I have done that I have decided to respond to you in this way so that I can craft my thoughts carefully and to be sure that this is said the way I want it said.

You already know that your request was not well received. For you to understand how we feel, I ask you to imagine how you would feel if we were to ask you to please remove the Bibles and religious icons from your living room when we visit your home. Many years ago I told you that your beliefs were not an issue for me unless you tried to put them onto me. By asking us to modify our home to accommodate your religious beliefs, you have crossed that line.

But that is not the point I wish to make. I have several reactions and they are below, not in any priority order.

First, we see your request as a grievous insult to our values. While there are differences between your philosophy and ours, we believe we all share the same core values: peace, love, and a desire to leave the world a better place than it was when we entered it. It is to these ends that your mother and I have lived our lives.

I also see it as a personal repudiation of me and my 30 year career in photography. I have always stood for a moral and just use of the camera to advance the human condition, and have always stood against it when used opposite those goals. The photographs I showed in my classroom always supported the ideals of truth and justice and were in support of the fight against the evils of our world.

Further, the images on our walls are not ribald images by any measure. If they were, there would be no discussion. They are important works from significant photographers. The figure in one is such a small percentage of the whole that its details are invisible at normal viewing distance, and the other shows far less than what can be seen at a public swimming pool or the beach.

Second, your request is also an insult to your own sons. For you are suggesting that their character is so weak that they would somehow be corrupted by these images and that the sight of them would somehow pull your children down into a sea of bad behavior. It also suggests that they cannot be trusted to deal with such things in an intelligent manner. I know that those boys are more intelligent and stronger than that.

[Ex-C members: My daughter and I share a love for the musical "The Music Man" and have seen it a number of times on screen and on stage as a father/daughter thing — we can both quote dialog extensively; thus it’s use here is particularly relevant.]

Remember the Music Man, who comes into town as a pool table is being delivered to the billiard parlor. Nobody in the street is taking any notice. But Prof. Harold Hill decides to make it an issue, and points everyone to something that otherwise would have been ignored. Nobody would have noticed if he hadn't said anything about it. But he whips the citizenry into a frenzy by claiming that the presence of a pool table in the community will immediately lead their youth to “Ragtime, shameless music, that will grab your son, your daughter, into the arms of the animal instinct....” Of course, by the end of the movie, the pool table is still in the billiard parlor, and everyone is doing just fine.

The lesson from that is that it isn't an issue until someone makes an issue. I would suggest to you that none of your children have looked for one microsecond at what's on the walls of our home. I also suggest that in the unlikely event that your sons should notice and have any reaction at all, that you would use it as an opportunity to teach them two things: First, how to intelligently and maturely deal with something that they are not otherwise used to and, second, that the human body is in the image of God and is nothing to be ashamed of.

I would also suggest that you ask yourself why something that is universally regarded as God's greatest creation would somehow be a problem. We know that the Bible says that man was created in God's image. And we consider the human being to be God's greatest achievement. So what you are doing is repudiating the image of God and the greatest manifestation of it.

So there it is. I do not know if I will respond or not, and I may have to decide before this is published on this site. It is, for me, a difficult decision.