View Full Version : St.Therese sister a LF photographer? Who'd a thunk it?

John Kasaian
2-Oct-2004, 22:39
I just saw the opening of a new movie, "Therese" about Therese Martin, a french girl in the late 1800's who became a saint. This is an independent film that probably won't be widely distributed considering the un-modern subject matter, but aside from being a spiritual biography, I was surprised that it featured a view camera!

According to the film, Therese's youngest sister was a photographer who took her camera with her when she entered the cloisters and photographed her sisters rehearsal of a play about Joan of Arc shortly before Therese died of tuberculosis.

I've seen published copies of these photos, but had no idea who took them---it would make sense that it would have been Therese's sister though, given the cloistered life Carmelite's would have lived at the time. The photos would have had to have been made by someone living inside the convent. OTOH, why would a Carmelite Novice be permitted to take something as expensive and worldly as a camera into the convent?

Anyway, what really impressed me was how the actress handled the view camera, complete with flash powder---very believable unlike some treatments of view cameras that I've seen on the big screen.

I was wondering if anyone here, maybe from france, would have any information about other photographs taken by this young Sister that might have been publlished?


Andre Noble
3-Oct-2004, 03:11

city?, theatre? movie sounds interesting.

John Kasaian
3-Oct-2004, 08:02

Sacramento, California at the UA on North Sunrise. I don't know what other cities its opened at.

Andre Noble
3-Oct-2004, 09:15
I'll look out for it. Thnxs.

george jiri loun
3-Oct-2004, 14:43
Two sisters of Thérèse were carmelites - Pauline and Marie. One was indeed a photographer who took pictures of Thérèse in the closter. Which one it was I don't know.

3-Oct-2004, 15:25

If my memory serves me correctly, the story of the saint's life was released back in the mid-70's - early 80's (that'll cover it). I remember the full-plate camera, however it paled in insignificance with the life of St Therese de Lisieux. Lovely to hear you pick up such fine detail from the remake of the film.

Although the Carmelite Order lives in cloisters as you say, they have always been bound to the life of the ordinary folk: Therese Martin's life was exemplary in elevating the status of ordinary living; above the fashionable trends for middling skirts and other anathema. The relevance of her practice of ordinary living, eschewing surfballing, go-karting; travelling to exotic countries is an example of discovering inner life: what her sister photographed was not a document of her life, but a witnessing of her life. This idea is very new to 'modern' ears, although it has been around before modernity.

The idea that a camera and lens (especially a large one) is worldly, is a dichotomous perspective; for most photographers, the camera is an extension of the eye. I'd love to see the remake to discover more about the role of the photographing sister which escaped me 20+ years ago.

The Carmelite Order serves others; it doesn't invoke a vow of silence and separation from the State. You might even have seen a famous Carmelite nun give seminars on the history of art on the telly. For reference: http://www.ocarm.org/

John Kasaian
3-Oct-2004, 15:25

I could easily be wrong, but I was under the impresion that there were five sisters, four entered the carmelites and one entered the poor claires but she was too ill to stay in the convent with them. The sister who was the photographer was, I think, Celine? The youngest who took care of the father and the last to enter the convent.

Apparently the production company had a lot of assistence from the Carmelites in filming the movie. I wonder if they were able to use the original camera? I'll have to try and contact them to see(at the risk of sounding sarcastic, I'll try to find out what kind of lens she used---no doubt if I post the brand, the price of some obscure 19th century French lens will shoot through the roof on eBay!)

John Kasaian
3-Oct-2004, 21:23

Interesting! Sr. Wendy is a Carmelite?? Perhaps St. Therese was a Discalced Carmelite---shoeless and living cloistered, though I don't recall her being shoeless in the movie, nor any reference to Discalced Carmelites in the credits.

If you get the chance, I'd like to hear your opinions regarding the new film. I've emailed one of the members of the Thereseian Trust for information about the camera. It would be interesting to see if more of Celine Martin's photographs were ever published.

The actress who plays Therese really does, I think, an excellent job. Shes a High School student who has been given an extremely tough role in keeping her portrayal "real" and from sinking into numbing sentimentality. Also the role of the Therese's father is completely believable and totally opposite from the stereotyped "idiot father" figures Hollywood takes joy in ridiculing. The screenplay can be taken either one of two ways---on the surface it appears to be a very simple story dependent more on the photography of the spectacular french(and sometimes oregon) countryside and victorian costumes. I think this (modernist?) attitude is what merited the panning reviews in my local newspaper, but there is a very deep, intriguing metaphysical side to the movie I find haunting. Its like it can be viewed as either as lightwieght as a "Flying Nun" rerun or as deep as St. John of the Cross' "Dark Night of the Soul" (with a LF camera!) IMHO, for an independant film it really is incredible.


george jiri loun
4-Oct-2004, 02:36

there were 6 sisters of Thérèse - 2 of them (Hélène and Mélanie Thérèse) died before Thérèse was born. From the 4 remaining sisters 3 were carmelites (not 2 as I said mistakenly in my previous post) - Marie, Pauline and Céline. Léonie, the 4th remaining sister was in a different religious order. The youngest in the familly was Thérèse herself but Céline entered the order 3 years after Thérèse. By the way, the carmelites had (beside their normal photographic activities)the habite to take pictures of their dead sisters right after the death (as happened with Thérèse after her death) - it would be only logical that they prefered doing so by themselves rather than having some outsider comming to their cloister.

Ernest Purdum
4-Oct-2004, 08:46
I found a website, www.theresemovie.com, which I had trouble with, but it does have a place to register to receive screening information.

Philippe Gauthier
4-Oct-2004, 10:40
The movie was released in 1985. I remember seeing it on TV a couple of years later. I remember the scene with the camera, but I wasn't shooting LF the and I didn't pay too much attention.

A movie I'd really like to see again is the québécois/canadian movie J.A. Martin, photographer. I saw it perhaps 20 years ago, but I'm sure that it would be of great interest to all LF shooters. It's about a late 19th century photographer who goes for his summer tour of the coutryside - basically stopping in each village to take whatever pictures need to be taken.

The intrest of the movie is that for once, his wife decides to come with him. So he'll initiate her to using the camera, processing plates in the wagon/darkroom, etc. I wasn't a LF shooter back then, but I remember things like people looking upside down on the ground glass, so I would assume it's pretty realistic. Quite apart from the technical aspect, it's also a good relflexion on the social role of photography in these times when a picture was a rare and precious object.

John Kasaian
4-Oct-2004, 12:40

The movie I saw was a new production just released by an independent film maker who produced, directed, and played the part of Therese' father---his wife wrote the screen play and a Carmelite sister I think composed the musical score. I don't think I've seen the version released 20 years ago, but I do remember a black and white version that certainly must have been much older than that.

The J.A.Martin, Photographer movie sounds very interesting. I wonder if its on DVD or video? I'll be sure to check that one out if possible. Thanks!

tim atherton
4-Oct-2004, 13:09
who knew there were so many closet Catholics and hagiographers on here...


at least now know who the patron saint of LF photography is! Gotta get me one of those little medallions to glue to my Phillips - say goodbye to dust spots forever...

John Kasaian
4-Oct-2004, 15:56

I doubt that the patronage of a saint will help with dust problems as the camera in the movie stills has bellows that are well taped on the corners---if she won't help with pinholes I doubt if she would be of any assistance "excorcising" dust---try a shop vac!;-)

John Kasaian
4-Oct-2004, 23:01

I was able to come up with a much better link to the production company's site via http://www.sttherese.com/ You should be able to find a publicity still that shows the view camera used in the film.


John Kasaian
4-Oct-2004, 23:34
Celine shot a 13x18 cm with a Darlot lens(should this ever come up on Jeopardy!) I'm still curious as to what other photos shes taken than have been published.

Ernest Purdum
5-Oct-2004, 04:38
Thank you, John.

Lou Nargi
5-Oct-2004, 21:36
Sounds interesting, going to try to find the movie