One of the remarkable features of the history of photography is that, less than a century after its invention and less than fifty years after film replaced the unwieldy photographic plates of its early years, it became the medium of choice for many whom we now regard as major artists: Edward Steichen, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, Manuel Alvarez Bravo, and many others.
When I was entering my teen years in the lower middle-class doldrums of Los Angeles, California, I was embittered by what I imagined was the misfortune of growing up in a place that was brutally ugly and devoid of either history or culture. Never mind that I was fifteen minutes from the Pacific Ocean and not all that much farther from wooded canyons and mountains and desert, my immediate surroundings were nearly identical ranch-style houses hastily assembled over razed orange and avocado groves, supermarkets, gas stations, fast food restaurants, strip malls, and vast parking lots.
On the late January morning I went to meet Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former Archbishop of Quebec and Primate of Canada, and, since last fall, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops at the Vatican, I first paid a visit to the Vatican Museum. The two frescoes I found myself returning to over and over are well known but difficult to contemplate because they are high up on the palace’s ceiling.