Light in the Desert. Photo from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert by Tony O’Brien
SANTA FE ― It was 1968 when Trappist monk Thomas Merton visited the Benedictine monastery Christ in the Desert, near Abiquiu shortly after it was founded.
Merton’s writings and photographs of the experience brought the secluded monastery to the attention of a wider community of people seeking sanctuary and spiritual inspiration.
An exhibition titled, Light in the Desert: Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert by photojournalist Tony O’Brien opens Friday, April 27 at the Governor’s Gallery on the fourth floor of the New Mexico State Capitol Building.
After being imprisoned in Afghanistan while on assignment for Life magazine in 1989, O’Brien sought solace and perspective at the monastery. He returned in 1994 to do a story and, in the process, became a practicing member of the community. During his yearlong residency, O’Brien was granted rare access to photograph the monastery and the daily activities and offices that have been kept in a tradition dating back to the Middle Ages. O’Brien’s camera became an instrument of contemplation and spiritual healing, his reverent photographs reflecting the harsh beauty as well as the austerity of the monastic life.
This traveling exhibit of original selenium-toned photographs was organized by Palace of the Governors Photo Archive at the New Mexico History Museum in Santa Fe.
O’Brien’s work as a photojournalist has appeared in many national and international publications. He teaches photography at the Marion Center of Photographic Arts at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He has authored two books, Light in the Desert, Photographs from the Monastery of Christ in the Desert and Afghan Dreams: Young Voices of Afghanistan. He lives in Santa Fe with his family.