During the first winter holiday I spent in New York, there was a billboard up around Bryant Park advertising the Christ in Christmas. It shot up with the tree stands and lights — mid-November before any snow had fallen. The details of the placard are lost to me now: some pale blue, some illustrated Jesus, maybe clouds, a dove. The main message I remember, of course, it was so simple, a word: Christmas.
This year, a group called the American Atheists have paid several tens of thousands of dollars to have a similarly semantic ad run first in Times Square and then at Penn Station. Theirs is a digital billboard. In stock animation, it asks, “Who needs Christ during Christmas?” And then, as some invisible hand exes out the Christ, goes: “NOBODY”.
Such reductive displays of visual propaganda are exactly what artists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin are challenging with their illustrated Holy Bible, new from MACK. Their Bible, a leather bound and gold trim classic King James, has been amended with red underlines and photographs from the Archive of Modern Conflict. These changes serve to parallel the violence and calamity in Scripture with that of documentary photography.
The lines they draw between text and image are oblique, surprising, and sometimes even funny, deliberately nothing like news journalism, which anchors its photos with sure captions. Broomberg and Chanarin are not creating a counter-narrative, not asserting any truth, but rather prompting the reader to, “think about how images produced in the theatre of human suffering are consumed.”
Holy Bible is a delicate text and the most beautiful object, one that would make a perfect gift for Christmas or Xmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa — for anytime and anyone in your human life.