Holy Shroud

A film by Benoît Labourdette (3’40s, 2021).
3 February 2021. Published by Benoît Labourdette.
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Film comes, in the history of mankind, as a much more religious fact than one might have thought at first glance..

André Bazin, in his article “Ontology of the photographic image” (1945), evokes in a very clear way the function of the original photograph: this photographic trace of the body of Christ on his mortuary shroud (the Holy Shroud, preserved in Turin, Italy) is used as one of the irrefutable proofs of the existence of God, because the hand of man has nothing to do with it, it is a natural phenomenon, a mechanical reproduction. Photography is therefore at one with the foundations of Christianity.

Of course, the Holy Shroud was proven to be a fake, the fabric having been dated to the Middle Ages at carbon 14. This does not in any way detract from its function and the instrumentalization that was made of it. The carvings of Christ’s tomb still represent this fabric. In the Baroque period, the sculpted staging is spatialized from it, like a kind of pre-film waiting patiently for the appearance of the technology that will follow.

To live the shock of the encounter with such a sculpture and to film it accompanied by the words of André Bazin, to make it exist in the time of cinema, is for me to touch a common philosophical essence. This highlights the intrinsic link between cinema, religion and art history. André Bazin’s words were the foundation of my understanding of cinema. So making this film represents for me a way of tracing the deep link between cinema and its two origins, both mechanical-natural and human-fictional.

For religion is a fiction, which has taken as a pretext an allegedly irrefutable trace of reality. That is to say, cinema and its avatars before their time, with all the troubles that images sow more and more in the question of the definition of the real. Let us specify, in the continuation of Yuval Noah Harari’s work, that I call religion any fixed belief system that claims to explain the world. Thus, atheism, although it defends itself, is also a religion.

Excerpt from the article “Ontology of the photographic image” by André Bazin (1945) read in the film:

Photography, by completing the baroque, freed the plastic arts from their obsession with resemblance. For painting tried in vain to make us illusion and this illusion was enough for art, while photography and cinema are discoveries that satisfy definitively and in its very essence the obsession with realism. However skillful the painter was, his work was always mortgaged by an inevitable subjectivity. A doubt remained about the image because of the presence of man. So the essential phenomenon in the passage from baroque painting to photography does not lie in the simple material improvement (photography will remain for a long time inferior to painting in the imitation of colors), but in a psychological fact: the complete satisfaction of our appetite for illusion by a mechanical reproduction from which man is excluded. The solution was not in the result but in the genesis.

It would be necessary, however, to study the psychology of minor plastic genres, such as the molding of death masks, which also present a certain automatism in reproduction. In this sense, photography could be considered as a molding, an impression of the object through the use of light.

The originality of photography in relation to painting therefore lies in its essential objectivity. Thus, the group of lenses that constitutes the photographic eye substituted for the human eye is precisely called “the lens”. For the first time, between the initial object and its representation, nothing interposes itself but another object. For the first time, an image of the outside world is automatically formed without any creative intervention by man, according to a rigorous determinism. The personality of the photographer comes into play only through the choice, the orientation, the pedagogy of the phenomenon; however visible it may be in the final work, it does not appear in the same way as that of the painter. All the arts are based on the presence of man; in photography alone we enjoy his absence. It acts on us as a “natural” phenomenon, like a flower or a snow crystal whose beauty is inseparable from its vegetal or telluric origins.

This automatic genesis has radically changed the psychology of the image. The objectivity of photography gives it a power of credibility absent from any pictorial work. Whatever the objections of our critical mind, we are obliged to believe in the existence of the represented object, effectively re-presented, that is to say, made present in time and space. Photography benefits from a transfer of reality of the thing on its reproduction.

We should introduce here a psychology of the relic and the “memory” which also benefits from a transfer of reality coming from the mummy complex. Let’s just point out that the Holy Shroud of Turin synthesizes the relic and the photograph.


In this perspective, cinema appears as the completion in time of photographic objectivity. The film no longer merely preserves for us the object wrapped in its instant as, in amber, the intact body of the insects of a bygone era, it delivers Baroque art from its convulsive catalepsy. For the first time, the image of things is also that of their duration and as the mummy of change.

Film location:
Saint-Jacques de Dieppe Church - The Sepulcher

Sculpture of the tomb of Christ


Plaster of 1842, copy of a previous plaster destroyed during the French Revolution, itself a copy of a XVIth Century set located in the Collegiate Church of Eu.

France, Normandy.

The Holy Shroud of Turin:
JPEG - 1.1 Mb

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