Wednesday, March 3, 2010

A picture is worth a thousand words.

Yea... No kidding. Anybody can push a button and take a photograph but it is an entirely different thing to make that photograph a picture. I think that the difference between a photograph and a picture is that a picture has a story behind it and that it is intentional (most of the time).

Last week, I had asked Professor Nichols about that week and last weeks assignments because I had a feeling that I was doing them wrong. I have been into photography for a long time so I have a good sized portfolio. However, I wasn't sure whether or not we had to practice our photography by taking pictures of our target culture or not. Professor Nichols said that it would be ideal since "you'd kill two birds with one stone."

Well, I arranged to go to the Assyrian service on Sunday, but since it was on such a short notice, I wasn't able to speak directly with the priest, only our friend told me that it was okay for me to walk around and take pictures during the service.

I felt uncomfortable to say the least. Not only that, I felt like I was disturbing people while they were worshiping. All in all, I could only take about 70 or so pictures and a few short videos.

When I got home that Sunday, I was horrified. The point-and-shoot digital camera that I was using stinks! To say the least, only about 10-20 photographs were good quality due to the lack of light and the abundance of incense smoke in the church.

Well anyways, I'm going to share a few of my photos and explain what I tried to capture with them.

Beautiful stained glass. Even though the church I went to is a small church with a small congregation, they are very tight knit. In fact, the congregation raised enough money to buy a two million dollar acre to build a new church. by shutting off the flash on the camera, I hoped to capture the divinity of every inch of this place.

The object that is seen on top of the covers in the foreground is the Bible that the priest reads in the church. It is so symbolic that everybody participating in the service kisses it at some point during the service.

Notice here that the women have their heads covered during the service in the church. This is mainly a Islamic tradition to cover the heads of the women. Many Turkish and Islamic traditions have infused into the Christian Assyrian culture.

This picture, I wanted to capture another tradition that infused into the Assyrian culture, that is the separation of men and women. In this church, the women sit on the right side of the isle while the men sit on the left. Here is a shot of the front of the church from the right side, behind a woman with a head scarf.

This is another shot showing the separation of the genders. I took a friend of mine to the church with me that morning so that she can help me if I needed anything, batteries, memory card, etc. We came in, covered our heads, and sat on the left side of the isle, the men side. After about five minutes somebody came over and told us to go to the other side. In the beginning of the service the church was half empty so there were plenty of spaces in each side. But towards the end of the service, the church was packed with people standing towards the back and side walls. More women than men came to the service, so naturally some of the women sat on the left side with the men, but no men sat on the right side. Later, our friend of the family, Iso (which means Jesus in Aramaic), told us that it is common for men and women to have mixed seating here in the US since their church is small. However, this would never happen regardless of the availability in Turkey or Europe.

The priest reading from the Bible. Singing is prominent during the Assyrian service. In fact, there were hardly any spoken words during the service. Everybody "talked" in a singing manner.

The priest blessing the altar boy and handing him the incense so he can walk around the church with it. Note the two men on each side of the altar. They have their backs turned to the congregation. Now, I've been to many churches, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, yet I had never seen a service where the attendants and the priest did most of the paying while turning their backs to the congregation. This is another Islamic tradition. The Imam and the Cemaat (congregation in Turkish) turns to the direction of the Mecca to pray. So in essence during the whole prayer, Imam's back is to the Cemaat. It was the same incident here with the priest and the attendants.

Even though this shot came out a little darker than I intended to, I really like this picture. This was right after the altar boy kissed the Bible. You can just see the reflection of the light coming in from the stained glass on the Bible.

Choir girls. I really like the angle of this picture. The photograph of Jesus is on the top left while the girls are on the bottom right. Small detail, the candles below the photograph of Jesus adds to the mood.

Here the girls are singing. I took this picture from the second row between the two women because I wanted to show the prominence of the head scarf tradition. The friend who came with me to the church that day is also Turkish and she also doesn't know anything about Assyrians. Her comment after we left was, "They [the congregation] were like Muslims in a church!" No kidding. The infusion of both religions is uncanny.

İşo, our friend, is in the middle (gray suit). This gesture of "shaking hands" is the gesture of "giving of peace." People shake hands with others around them then rubbing their hands to their face. This is yet another Islamic tradition. During the daily prayer, Muslims open up the palms of their hands to the heavens and after the prayer, rub their hands to their faces as if to rub in the blessing from Allah to themselves. Speaking of Allah, Assyrians do not address God as God but they use the word Allah. This was the most interesting part for me. In Turkish, we have two words to describe "the creator," if you will. Allah is used as the one and only creator, while the use of God is in a more general term as if to say a deity. For example, in Turkish, we would call Venus a God because she is the Goddess of love, beauty and natural productivity. We wouldn't call her the Allah of Love. I hope I am explaining this right... Please ask me if you get confused.

This was the elder lady in front of me "giving peace." I think the blurriness of this picture and the subsequent two pictures can kind of explain how determined she was to get to as many people as possible.

Here she is right after she gave peace to

Here is the last picture of the day. The service took a little longer than usual because there was a memorial service for the relative of a congregation member who passed away in Europe. The congregation member bought grapes and bread for everybody to snack on after the service. This can show you how tight knit the Assyrians are. Somebody's relative passes away in Europe somewhere and they hold a service to pray for that person in the US.

Anyways, I hope you like the stories behind the pictures and I hope that you were able to catch some of the stories I way trying to tell through my pictures without the help of my narration. Please let me know what you think.

1 comment:

  1. I can't believe I didn't comment on this earlier. Photography exercises aside, this is an excellent example of the work of a digital ethnographer. I appreciate the effort you are putting into engaging this culture. (I also appreciate the graciousness of your hosts to allow you such access.) Keep up the great work!