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Bishop Spong, 2006

by Marina Dearnley

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2007 Finalist

The sitter is the American Bishop John Shelby Spong, a retired Anglican bishop, author, and theologian whose controversial, progressive theology challenges the traditional literal interpretation of scripture in the Christian tradition. This ground breaking theology has met with a huge tide of support from around the world, yet it has led him into dangerous territory, as he has received several death threats from irate Christian fundamentalists. The viewer's eye is first drawn to Spong at the bottom left of the frame then up the sweeping ornate staircase to the top of the frame. The staircase is an important element in the photograph as it refers to the spiritual symbol of the ladder, which the seeker ascends to ultimate union with the Divine. Secondly, the viewer's eye is drawn to the black and white tones on either side of the staircase. This is another visual metaphor, expressing the fundamentalist approach to Christianity to which Spong clearly does not subscribe. Bishop Spong sits in the middle of the frame opposing fundamentalism, its fear and prejudice, its intolerance and repression of women, gays and lesbians and religions different to its own.

National Photographic Portrait Prize 2007

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The National Portrait Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and to Elders past and present. We respectfully advise that this site includes works by, images of, names of, voices of and references to deceased people.

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