Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
First Sweet Truth is a photographic dialogue with mystical texts written by Christian women in the late Middle Ages. These visionary accounts are not only significant historically—many of them are the first known texts to be written by women in the West—but, moreover, provide a foundation for non-anthropocentric knowledge. In our contemporary landscape informed by algorithms and data-driven forms of knowledge, mystical experience inherently defies the logic of our time. Today we largely assume seeing to be a disembodied act. In a constant flow of images, our eyes skim, understand, move on—what the philosopher Laura Marks calls seeing-as-mastering. In contrast, I examine what this lineage of female visionary experience reveals about other ways of seeing, a kind of seeing that gestures both towards the flowering of reality and the limits of representation.
My project is at once an historical inquiry, a personal pilgrimage, and an investigation into the continued relevance of these women’s writings. I turn to my camera as a tool of translation. How do you photograph the ineffable? For a medium that has an indexical relationship to reality, much has been written about photography’s ability to visualize the invisible, from Spiritualist photography to Kate Bouman’s recent photograph of a black hole. But rather than look to the camera as a tool for truth-as-evidence, I turn to it instead as a tool for truth-as-disclosure. What if the camera is the thing with which I keep saying God?1
Leonard, Jessina Lynn, "First sweet truth" (2020). Masters Theses. 493.
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