Jan 06

Hot Missionary and the Photos That Love Them

The Brown Wedge2 comments • 1,513 views

nate one
Rhonda Anderson

I was w. mom again for new years, and we went for new years eve to the local lds church—I grew up there and mom was a member, and I took some photos, none of them really turned out, but I posted a couple on flickr, just because—one was of that night, two leatherette bound books under a lamp, on top of a cheap table.

The books, the bible and the book of Mormon, were used as tags, so other people could navigate them. Sometimes I use them myself, in the same way that Freudian psychoanalysts use word association to plumb the id—and while looking thru other tags w. lds, I noticed Nate ones photo sets (I also noticed dozens of really boring, picture perfect photos of various temples, but that’s another piece)

Nate’s photostream reminded me of one of the few photos to ever win credit in the LDS Museum of Cultures triennial art show. The art that usually wins the contest are realist paintings of families, kitschy work featuring Aryan saviors, and the odd metaphorical landscape—rarely there is anything so documentary, the art contest proves more then anything else, that the Mormons are now essentially middle American protestants.

However, there is something strange in LDS culture, 200 years of separate cultures, separate language, separate ritual and separate land. They can be in many ways, intensely insular. So, having these 70 or so photos by who ever Nate is and having this one photo by whoever Anderson is, teaches us about the church.

In Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, there is a line about two boys together clinging, and I keep coming back to that, when thinking about Nate One’s pictures—the same men in the same suits, doing the same jobs, the same homosocial tension of the military, the same desire towards god that comes with seminaries, but out in the world. There is the same drawing of Christ, throughout the photostream here, and the same photos of prophets in Rhonda Anderson’s meta-work. That image of Christ was on my door growing up, and it was the one I knew in Sunday school, it is the most popular image of Christ known, and it has thousands of copies, it is ubiquitous in LDS circles—and if it looks like it was illustrated in the 50s by people who did pulps, It was because the church rebranded under David O McKay about that time, actually hiring pulp artists (look at last months Illustration magazine for copies)

There appears stillness; loneliness in Rhonda Anderson’s work, there is so silence in Nate’s. Missionaries are not allowed to be alone, for the months they are gone, there is someone ever present (and when they transfer to new areas they all go together in clumps, 10 missionaries in the same greyhound bus station) They say the same thing then, there is an (unintential?) surveillance aesthetic here, the faces of the prophets of the church, the pulp Jesus, yr fellow workers in the fields of the lord. The absence of living people in Anderson’s is not still, the constant presence of icons of virtue maintain that.

It feels weird to be writing about this work as anthropology, though. To talk about something framed as art in opposition and conjunction with something framed as souvenir photos really seems churlish. But flickr encourages that—it is tagged book of Mormon, or LDS or Bible or Jesus not art/not art—it blasts apart any dichotomy between the personal and the public aesthetic (at least somewhat, if he wanted us not to see it, then he could have marked it private) and with a BFA in photography, and a tendency towards banal series, Anderson has swallowed the flickr aesthetic, the artless art photograph makes things difficult.

The question one has to ask then, is not is this art but does this add something valid to our understanding of what we are looking at. Nate and Rhonda both do that.

nate one
Rhonda Anderson


  1. 1
    info@autosoit.ee on 12 Feb 2008 #

    huesossen huesossen

  2. 2
    Rhonda Anderson on 21 May 2008 #

    Just found this site tonight. Thanks for writing about my photograph…however you came across it.


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