For The Eye of Photography, photographic books are as important as an exhibition or a portfolio. They make the history and the news of the medium. Our correspondent Zoé Isle de Beauchaine takes a tirelessly curious and informed look at the latest releases.
In the age of the all-digital, where every relationship has a virtual element, what about the relationship to God and the sacred? Antoine Martin leads a fascinating exploration of this issue in his book Virtual Mass, published by RVB Books.
In 2020, while studying at the ECAL and interested in digital images for several years, the Swiss photographer discovered insecam.org. This important open source webcam site retransmits live and streaming images from thousands of freely accessible – or poorly protected, the limit is debatable – cameras around the world. Each user can explore these videos by theme. From Beach to Barbershop to Pool to Computer to Farm to Surf… the choice is as wide as it is confusing.
It is the Religion section that attracted Antoine Martin’s attention, as the videos came mainly from Catholic or Protestant churches. Intrigued by their use and mode of operation, he began to observe these recordings and compiled extracts which, almost three years later, form the framework of Virtual Mass.
The pages of this missal-like book scroll through pixelated images of the daily life of several churches. Various Christian symbols, from statuary to biblical quotations, as well as priests celebrating mass, the faithful at prayer, processions and funeral rites can be seen. Funerals are numerous and it is quite disturbing to watch through the camera these anonymous bodies lying in an open coffin, surrounded by relatives paying their respects… or filming the scene. Yet they became common practice during the pandemic, which accelerated the digitalisation of Christian worship.
Referring to the Church’s idea of developing an application for confession, Antoine Martin stresses that, while we “cannot blame the Church for wanting to update itself in the digital age, the distancing of the sacred through all these digital channels is questionable. We can thus observe with perplexity and a certain sense of humour an announcement indicating the time of the next “virtual mass”, a nun lost in the connections of a portable computer or Windows screens replacing divine paintings to broadcast photographs of a deceased person or simply indicating GOD in capital letters. All these images highlight the penetration of the sacred by the digital and the way in which the two can merge.
Through the prism of religion, Antoine Martin offers an original reflection on the digitalisation of our lives and our (holy) minds. For its author, Virtual Mass is less a criticism of religion than a questioning of the digital, whose ubiquity is such that it has infiltrated the sacred.
Antoine Martin – Virtual Mass
Published by RVB Books, 2023
23 x 17,3 x 0,8 cm
Silkscreen print (4 colors)
mounted on gilded wood
Limited edition of 50 copies
Available in bookstores and online