A Life in Shadows
Photographed by Francesca Phillips
Las Palmas, Spain: Francesca Phillips, 2012. Edition of 50.
9.96 x 9.25 x 1.57"; 176 pages. Printed on Lambeth Cartridge Paper, 170 gsm. Includes 84 black and white photographs. Bound in dark brown calfskin. Cream foil blocked. Housed in a black linen-covered slipcase with recessed silver gelatin print. Photography and design by Francesca Phillips. Printed by Senecio, Oxfordshire, UK. Binding by Ludlow Bookbinders, Shropshire, UK. Signed and numbered by the artist.
English and Spanish text with selected quotations by Henry David Thoreau, James Thurber, Robert Browning, and others. Selected text includes lines from "In Silence" by Thomas Merton; "I thank You God for most this amazing" by E. E. Cummings: and "If It Be Your Will" by Leonard Cohen. Translation by Miguel Curbelo, Las Palmas, Spain.
Francesca Phillips: "White Monks: A Life in Shadows offers an intimate glimpse into an ancient way of life that is slowly disappearing, a testament to lives devoted to spiritual service, in extraordinary counterpoint to the modern world.
"The Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, more commonly known as the Trappists, is a Roman Catholic contemplative enclosed order of monks and nuns that evolved from a succession of reforms to return to the true spirit of the Benedictines. Living in solitude, in an atmosphere of silence, they have chosen a life of private contemplation very rarely seen by others. Made over a period of three years, this collection of photographs gives us a sense of the mystique of monastic life, the enigmatic otherness of monks.
"Photographed in three monasteries in Spain: Monasterio de La Oliva in Navarra, Monasterio de San Pedro de Cardeña in Burgos, and Abadia San Isidro de Dueñas in Palencia."
Francesca Phillips, additional comments: "With the permission to photograph came several provisos that included, at first, showing no faces at all. Wandering around alone in public areas I was to be as inconspicuous and as sensitive as possible. If accompanied I could go to certain private quarters, but just for a few minutes, and there was to be no talking, as is the rule of the Order. The slightly clandestine nature of it was strangely liberating. At six o'clock in the morning, in the winter, in the darkness of a 12th-century church, thinking you are alone, only to slowly discover that you are surrounded by twenty hooded, praying monks – it was a perfect moment of pure theatre.
"I realized early on that to try and demystify their way of life was pointless, and that all I could do was attempt to capture something of its atmosphere. The photographs live as a record for those who don't have the opportunity to see for themselves the life that takes place inside a monastery. It was an extraordinary privilege to work in the communities, even more so as a woman, and during my time with them my questions grew. Above all, still, who is a monk? The times in which we live make it seem all the more remarkable that someone can renounce so much to enter a monastery, abstain from such great choice. But this is a secular thought. For those who hear the call to monastic life the ultimate desire is to concentrate on their faith. Their decision holds secrets and in them lies a poetic mystery."