being transformed into? A Christian? Who or what was transforming her? Church leaders? Parents? The other children in the Sunday school? Was she learning the church’s image of Christ and learning to think of herself as someone who is supposed to behave like that? We transform ourselves in these same ways. We internalize the idea of what is good. You want to be the image of Christ or Christ’s image of what you should be. You want to become what your church wants you to become.


I read an announcement in the newspaper’s religion page calendar for a birthday party at the Josephinium, a Catholic retirement home in downtown Seattle. The party was to celebrate the 105th birthday of a resident of the home. There would be entertainment, and both the mayor and the Catholic adjutant archbishop would attend.

In a photograph I made at this party, a woman in a white dress (a professional singer) is blurred and vague (fig. 43). Solid women, more sharply focused, watch her. Some of the women are smiling, but at least one of them is scowling, maybe even disapprovingly. A religious statue is behind them: it looks like Joseph is holding up the baby Jesus so that he can get a better look at the lady in white. I had my camera on a tripod, set to a very slow shutter speed to ensure that the movement of the woman in white would be blurred and ethereal, maybe even translucent. I thought of her as a hazy ideal, an implicit, probably unattainable form. The whiteness of the singer’s dress carries all the connotations of purity that go with that color, but her shape is “womanly,” large-breasted, so that it’s somewhat ambiguous: it’s not quite clear how innocent she is. The ideal is blurred. Ideals are probably always in transformation, but we all know some things about religion’s ideal woman: she’s pure, nurturing, and obedient to God.

I sought out aspects of ceremonies that involved the relationships of women and

The White Dress