|dc.description.abstract||During the Middle Ages, the Christian church primarily employed the visual arts to
showcase and communicate theology. Yet within the realms of today’s audio-visual
media, the popularity of spoken-word short films indicates a preference within the
Christian community for didactic speech over traditional visual symbology. In examining
ways in which the primacy of the visual spectacle might be reinstated into modern screenbased
forms of theological communication, this doctoral research identifies an enduring
and powerful element in the underpinning presence of illumination.
Understood in concrete and abstract modes, illumination can be both a physical process
of lighting, as well as spiritual or mental knowledge. This multimodality allows it to be
an effective allegorical device for expressing abstract theological concepts through
concrete visual forms, exemplified in stained-glass windows, magic lantern shows and,
as my research proposes, the recent mediums of film and the digital video screen.
My research revises the practice of illumination for visual theology in short film. Using
a conceptual framework, it identifies key properties of illumination, alongside practical
filmmaking equivalents and demonstrations in the form of my three short films.
Early cultural and historical studies in religious practice and Platonic philosophy reveal
illumination’s allegorical applications, and provide models of comparison by which
contemporary methods can be determined. With reference to relevant theories from
Roland Barthes, Paul Schrader and André Bazin, my cultural studies indicate that
illumination essentially facilitates the mediation process between binaries, including the
progression from darkness to light, ignorance to knowledge, concealment to revelation,
man to God, confinement to liberation, and death to life.
Content, discourse and semiotic analyses were then applied to select short and feature
films to identify contemporary equivalents of illumination in faith-based and secular
cinema. The surveyed works include the films of Rob Bell, Francis Chan and Robert
Bresson, as well as examples from formalist film theory and cinematic realism. Many of
the illumination techniques detailed in this body of work appear as specific camera
movements, mis-en-scène, symbolic lighting, film editing and reflective narrative pacing.
Yet despite illumination being physically essential for film production, my cultural
research would suggest that it operates in deeper systems, such as the progression of
narrative from concealment to revelation, as from darkness to light.
Along with my written research, the practical component of this investigation takes the
form of documented optical experiments, and provides a method of assessing how realworld
applications of illumination might metaphorically correlate with theological
concepts and principles. The findings from both cultural and action research methods
informed the production of my three short films: Negative Space (2015), Reflect (2016)
and Pierced (2017). Each film functions as a practice-based research output and allows
key illumination techniques to be demonstrated, tested and evaluated, consequently
providing data for further inquiries.
Placing primacy on real-world visual phenomena rather than the spoken word offers
audiences a visual narrative that is arguably less didactic and more subjective. My
research would suggest that a multimodal application of illumination can be instrumental
in reinstating the spectacle in contemporary visual theology.||en_US