I faced one of my most difficult editorial decisions for this edition of Premier Christianity.
Among the many images that had been taken for our major feature, ‘The Stations’, was one of a refugee from Syria, photographed from behind, stripped bare and hooded for execution (featured in the opening spread on p40). The shot was staged by creative director Marksteen Adamson as part of an ambitious collaborative project to photograph refugees for a series of images representing a modern-day Stations of the Cross.
Many moving shots had already been taken of those living in the limbo of the Calais ‘Jungle’ and in the camps and temporary bedsits of those fleeing Syria. But, on his last full day in Lebanon, an image that would truly sum up the violence of the crucifixion had yet to be captured. During his trip, Marksteen befriended a convert to Christianity who had already faced violence and death threats, and felt bold enough to ask him to pose naked for the shot.
Almost incredibly the man agreed, and so in a derelict building on the outskirts of Beirut, the photographic assignment took place. For obvious reasons the subject of the photo would remain anonymous, but the image that resulted was graphic, arresting and unsettling.
In essence it represents a sense of what we should feel when we witness Jesus himself on the cross. But most of the time we don’t. Artistic representations have typically romanticised the crucifixion to the point that we become insulated against the reality of the shame and the horror that would have typified this form of Roman execution.
So what was my editorial dilemma?
Whether to put the image on the front cover of this magazine.
As you will have seen, I decided not to; though a large part of me wanted to. A picture can speak 1,000 words and sometimes we need to be confronted with stark images that challenge us at an emotional level in ways that words cannot.
Nevertheless, the picture that we have carried on our cover (an echo of Christ’s thorny crown) also carries great significance. ‘The Stations’ has become a far more significant project for Marksteen, myself and this magazine than we ever envisaged.
If you are able, I encourage you to visit the exhibition at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London from 15th March to 10th April, or to engage with the project at premierchristianity.com/thestations and thestations.org.uk
I hope you are challenged by the stories and images featured in ‘The Stations’ and inspired to respond too. The journey isn’t over.