By Kelly MacConomy
Nina Tisara, Alexandria’s photographer laureate and founder of the photo-documentary project Living Legends of Alexandria, which celebrated its 10th-anniversary last month, has shared her darkroom artistry once more to bring focus to the vast diversity of faith in the City. The new exhibit joins two ambitious photo-documentary undertakings revisited. Nina’s lens depicts a continuum of worship, an embracing and engaging interfaith convergence not at odds or in opposition but united in seeking a common ground. In a global climate racked with intolerance, it is what makes Alexandria all-the-more exceptional.
“Witnessing Worship: Connecting Through the Lens of Faith” is on view at Convergence through June 17. The exhibit brings together for the first time Nina’s emblematic photographic series: “Converging Paths” and “United In the Spirit.” The dynamic interplay between the two series of photos taken in the 1980’s and 1990’s yields a reverent contemplation of what faith means today in an uncertain world. The channels of worship depicted across race and culture unfold, illuminating a unifying thread woven into the community. A communion of spirit, what Nina considers fostering a “generosity of listening”
Convergence is a unique art experience. Upon arriving at the former location of the Fair Park Baptist Church in Alexandria you first encounter an ocean of purple Japanese Iris in full bloom across a carpet of lush spring grass so serene that you feel as if you stepped into a Van Gogh or Monet canvas. Ethereal organic abstract and pastoral figurative sculpture grace the entrance in rapturous joyful play. The photographs and an archival photo video montage hang along the curving wall of the sanctuary opposite the exterior glass of the foyer. A glimpse of the soaring cathedral ceiling beyond, adorned by a four-story stained-glass mosaic streaming multi-colored beams of light upon the orderly pews, reminds us that Convergence is a church. Much like Nina’s witness to worship, we are without and within.
Ethereal organic abstract and pastoral figurative sculpture grace the entrance in rapturous joyful play. The photographs and an archival photo video montage hang along the curving wall of the sanctuary opposite the exterior glass of the foyer. A glimpse of the soaring cathedral ceiling beyond, adorned by a four-story stained-glass mosaic streaming multi-colored beams of light upon the orderly pews, reminds us that Convergence is a church. Much like Nina’s witness to worship, we are without and within.
Nina’s journey of discovery began when her son David became a Bible-toting, born-again Christian. Nina was raised in a Jewish household but as an adult joined the Unitarian-Universalist Church, which has no Bible, no Torah, no sacred text. Reaching out for the laurel branch of conciliation, she endeavored to build a bridge between the differences of their faith.
Nina explains, “It was very hard for me to communicate with David, the chasm of beliefs was so wide, and I had hoped that witnessing in the worship of others with an open mind and an open heart would help me understand him and bridge that chasm. Though David and I achieved a place of peace (love was never a question) neither of us changed our beliefs.” Sadly, David died of cancer in 2008. “Witnessing Worship” is his monument.
Perusing the yellow pages, Nina noted 73 churches between her home in Fairlington and her studio in Old Town. Contacting each congregation in writing for permission to photograph interiors during worship, Nina documented moments both expansive and meditative- intimate, plaintive portraits of prayer, song, celebration and commemoration. Nina reflects: “The matter of diversity in beliefs seems ever more relevant and with it comes the opportunity for strength and healing by opening our hearts and minds, reaching out and holding hands…..
Time after time, people welcomed me into their prayer circles and invited me to hold their hands. I couldn’t then because holding hands meant me putting down my camera. Now that I am retired I can put down my camera and hold those hands.”
Nina Tisara and Tisara Photography are well known for capturing vignettes of everyday city life in Alexandria as well as celebrating on film the quintessential Port City moments – a veritable timeline of our social networking for over 35 years. When photography went digital, rendering the creativity and magic of darkroom wizardry obsolete, and as burgeoning Ansel Adams and Annie Leibovitz phonetographers multiplied exponentially, Nina instead invested wholeheartedly in mosaics as a medium of newfound artistic expression. The tangible manipulation of color and shape proved to be as satisfying as pushing film, altering F-stop or exposure and dodging and burning prints.
Nina may have put down her camera and closed the dark room door for good but the creative spirit continues to compel her. The enlarger is gathering dust: developing gone the way of film. So too the dark room has been replaced as a studio for her new expressive passion. “Inspired by Nature” mosaics by Nina Tisara opens at Huntley Meadows Park Visitor Center June 2- August 31. Opening reception and artist talk is June 4 from 2:30-4:00 p.m. The show is free and open to the public.
Until then come to Convergence. Bear witness to your own worship and to the diversity of faith in our town with the open heart and mind of Nina’s viewfinder. Follow the path less taken.
And listen to the deafening silence of peace.
Nina Tisara’s photo exhibit at Convergence (1801 N. Quaker Lane) is free and open to the public Fridays 10-5 and Saturdays 10-4 or by appointment.