Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Anthony Bannon,

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries


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00:00:00 - How significant was Merton's photography?

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Partial Transcript: --would you set Merton in the world of photography?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon says Merton's photography fit within a larger midcentury interest throughout the country in contemplative art, originating in Zen thought. He also says that Merton was on his way to being a significant photographer, that the thirteen hundred photos at the Merton Archive at Bellarmine University show talent, and twenty of them may be museum-worthy. Bannon talks about how Merton was exploring things inside himself that he didn't understand, and discusses his composition style.

Keywords: Composition style

Subjects: Art; Bellarmine University; Contemplative--Spiritual life.; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Music; Painting; Photography; Zen Buddhism

GPS: Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University
Map Coordinates: 38.21937053249199, -85.70460554176083
00:05:01 - What is the unique perspective of Merton's photographs?

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Partial Transcript: I don't know if you care to speak to this, but do--what do his photographs tell you about the person?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon says Merton's photographs work as a platform for contemplative thought, legible even to someone who didn't know him as a person. Bannon admired Merton before seeing the photographs, and came to the Thomas Merton Center to view them in-person. He says that, going through the proofs, one can see the growth and development of Merton's artistic perspective.

Keywords: Thomas Merton Center

Subjects: Art; Composition (Art); Contemplative--Spiritual life; Landscapes; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography; Romanticism

GPS: The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University
Map Coordinates: 38.21937053249199, -85.704616270597
00:08:50 - Merton's photographic interest in line and contrast

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Partial Transcript: Are there telltale signs, like, well, this guy, I can tell just by the way he frames things or his style, that he was a graphic artist as well?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon discusses how Merton produced Zen-like drawings, calligraphic penmanship or offhanded work. He says that in Merton's photographs, there is an attention to line, but also to that push and pull, he seems drawn to contrasts and articulating their union. Bannon says that Merton's photographs in Asia were more those of a tourist than an artist, but in Kentucky, he used the camera as a way to probe the contemplative attitude.

Keywords: Calligraphic penmanship

Subjects: Abbey of Gethsemani (Trappist, Ky.); Asia; Contemplative--Spiritual life; Kentucky; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography; Zen

00:11:14 - What makes Merton's photographs contemplative?

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Partial Transcript: And I would ask you to speak a little bit more about the contemplative photograph--that's what you label them, in a way. What, what makes them a contemplative photograph?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon mentions how Merton said contemplation is impossible to define. He thinks that Merton came closest to it in his photography, because the way using a camera requires living in the moment. Bannon discusses how photography is a way to examine both the moment and what lies beyond it simultaneously.

Subjects: Contemplation.; Contemplative--Spiritual life; Life; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography

00:13:56 - Merton did not develop his photographs

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Partial Transcript: In that Merton didn't develop his own work, does that--well, just speak to that, and what does that affect--how does that affect your thinking as a photographer?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon discusses how, since it's impossible to know if Merton approved of the way his photographs were developed, there are more interpretive questions about them and their existence.

Keywords: Film development

Subjects: Aesthetics; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography

00:15:35 - Merton's photographs and living in the moment

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Partial Transcript: You, you write, "His photographs, like his writing, appear as a witness."

Segment Synopsis: Bannon says Merton's writing about nature argues for living fully in the moment and that Merton's photographs also push others to live fully in the moment.

Subjects: Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Nature; Photography; Writing

00:16:33 - Descriptions of individual Merton photographs

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Partial Transcript: You also wrote, some of these photographs take--took your breath away.

Segment Synopsis: Bannon talks about Merton's image of slate in shadow, a slight, anonymous image, which took him by surprise. He also mentions an image from the end of an open railroad car, a picture of a plastic outdoor chair. Bannon says that these images, along with others in Merton's collection, argue rhetorically about contrasts.

Keywords: Contrasts

Subjects: Aesthetics; Chairs; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography; Railroad cars; Slate

00:18:32 - Comparing Merton's photographs to his writing

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Partial Transcript: Did these photographs change your opinion of the person, of the man, or of his spirituality?

Segment Synopsis: Bannon says Merton's photographs extended his vision into a different medium, but did not illuminate anything new. He discusses how, towards the end of his life, Merton was tired of words and trusted them less, which coincided with his interest in photography from 1966 until his death.

Keywords: Visual mediums

Subjects: Contemplation; Contemplative--Spiritual life; Language; Merton, Thomas, 1915-1968; Photography