The Pictorial Bible III & The Aural Bible II: The Bible in Translation

The illustrated booklet describes and introduces projects presented at The Bible in Translation exhibition of visual and sound works, the School of Art Gallery, Aberystwyth University, February 16 – Mar 20, 2015, and on a double CD and associated websites of sound works released by the National Screen and Sound Archive of Wales in 2016.

The Bible in Translation is the third project in The Pictorial Bible series (following Settings of the Psalms, 2000 and Seal up the Vision and Prophecy, 2007) and the second project in The Aural Bible series (following R R B V E Ǝ T N Ƨ O A, 2015). The project investigates ways in which texts from, commentaries upon, and cultural articulations of, the Judaeo-Christian Bible can be transformed into visual and aural representations. The printed, spoken, and heard word is subjected to a hermeneutical process that deploys systems of codification, excision, and redaction, and techniques of collage, superimposition, and abstraction. By these means, the source material yields significances, connections, and resonances that are not ordinarily evident. The objective is to produce an ‘anti-image’: one that is shaped and delimited as much by Judaeo-Christianity’s theology of God’s invisibility, aniconicism, and the exigencies of scripture (as understood by Calvinist exegesis) as by formal and abstract visual values.3 Thus, in keeping with the Protestant principle of the primacy of Scripture, the biblical texts serve as the terminus a quo for the visual and aural artefacts.

Aberystwyth: School of Art Press, 2016. pp. 76, ISBN 978-1-899095-40-7

A pdf copy of the booklet can be downloaded at The Bible in Translation


The Bible as Visual Culture: When Text Becomes Image

This is an interdisciplinary study of the Bible and visuality. It is the first to be written by a historian of visual culture (that is, aspects of culture mediated by visual images) rather than a biblical scholar, and unlike some previous studies, makes equal partners of image and text. The Bible as Visual Culture also bridges a longstanding gulf between the interpretative traditions, languages, and reading conventions of the two disciplines.

The book’s central question is: What happens when text becomes an image? In response, the study explores how biblical ideas are articulated in and through visual mediums; and ways in which visual culture actively shapes biblical and religious concepts. Using original research material, Harvey’s approach develops a variety of new and adaptable hermeneutics to exegete artifacts. The book applies theoretical and methodological approaches—native to fine art, art history, and visual cultural studies but new to biblical studies—to examine the significance of images for biblical exegesis and how images exposit the Scriptures. The book draws upon a breadth of fine art, craft, and ephemeral objects made, modified or adopted for worship, teaching, commemoration and propaganda, including painting, print, photography, sculpture, installations, kitsch and websites. These artifacts are studied chiefly in the context of the late-modern period in the West, from a Protestant Christian perspective for the most part. The Bible as Visual Culture is directed to academics and students of biblical studies, theology, religious studies, ecclesiastical history, art history, visual culture and art practice. It provides an accessible introduction to the field, informing newcomers of existing scholarship and introducing new concepts and theories to those already in the field.

Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2013. pp. 231, ISBN-13 978-1-909697-08-9


Photography and Spirit 

Can photography capture what our eyes cannot see? Since mid-Victorian times there have been numerous claims made for photographs that apparently show spirits or ghosts. But in reality, are they hoaxes or irrefutable proof of an ethereal world beyond our own?

In Photography and Spirit, John Harvey examines these mesmerizing images of phantoms, psychical emanations and religious apparitions. Drawing on 80 images taken between the 1860s and today, he explores images of spirits from the various perspectives of religion, science and art. Some of the images were taken by scientists, others by commercial and amateur photographers, and still others by robotic surveillance devices. The diverse origins of these photographs have inspired a multiplicity of conflicting interpretations.  Harvey’s analysis tests the connections between the images, the human imagination and larger cultural traditions. He shows that images which are often considered to be no more than fringe objects or an embarrassing and best-forgotten anomaly of photographic practice are revelatory artefacts of history, and draws from them thought-provoking insights into the connections between the material and spiritual worlds, representations of grief, and our enduring fascination with the supernatural.

Photographic images of ethereal spirits render the border between what is real and what is fantastical indistinguishable. Photography and Spirit challenges our preconceived notions and offers an intriguing new perspective on the nature of photography.

London: Reaktion Books, 2007. pp. 144, ISBN 978-1-86189-324-6

The Pictorial Bible II: Seal Up the Vision and Prophecy

Following on from The Pictorial Bible I: Settings of the Psalms, the book and artefacts continue to explore the potential for biblical texts to yield procedural systems and structures as a basis for visual images. In so doing, the works engage further the delimitations and determinations of the source, deploy alphabetic and numerical sequences, codified letter strands, architectonic proportions and shapes, recurrent patterns, exegetical processes, cross-referencing, and typographical abstractions. At the same time, the works address the historical and cultural background of Old and New Testament, and Protestant Reformation piety (its literature, music, pedagogy, and devotional practices).

Aberystwyth: School of Art Press, 2007. pp. 44, ISBN 978-1899-095-27-8.

A pdf copy of the booklet can be downloaded at Seal Up the Vision and Prophecy


The Appearance of Evil: Apparitions of Spirits in Wales

Edmund Jones (1702-93) was a Welsh Independent minister, Calvinist, visionary, prophet, topographer, and religious historian. Like many Protestant reformers and Puritan divines before him. Jones was fascinated by the occult. Throughout his life he amassed what he believed to be convincing evidence for the existence of good and evil apparitions (including ghosts, demons, fairies, witches, angels, and giants) and of the ‘invisible world’. Apparitions of Spirits in Wales contains the testimonies of many witnesses to supernatural encounters in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Wales, from abductions by fairies, and appearances of ghosts, devils and witches, to poltergeist activity. The stories here evoke a spiritually dark landscape in which the malevolent dead and damned wander. and present a fascinating insight into how ordinary eighteenth-century folk visualized the spirit world.

This new edition presents Jones’s narratives in an updated and accessible form. John Harvey has collated Jones’s second book of apparitions, published in 1780, along with the text of an earlier but now lost volume cm the same subject, and material from Jones’s 1779 study of the parish of Aberystruth. Together they represent the most comprehensive compilation of Jones’s accounts of apparitions ever before published.

Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2003. pp. 164, ISBN 0-7083-1854-1 (paperback), 0-7083-1855-X (hardback)


Miner-Artists: The Art of Welsh Coal Workers

The book accompanies the exhibition of the same title. The exhibition shows work by miners who took up art as a leisure activity and a means of coming to terms with their social conditions and environment during the 20th century. They made paintings, sculptures, photographs, and models in the spare bedroom, in the garden shed, or on the kitchen table using a mixture of traditional and local tools and materials such as brushes, palette-knives, fingers and rags, modelling clay, and even coal dust. A number received instruction at local amateur art classes. However, most miner-artists were untutored amateurs, in the best sense of that word. The works illustrate the conditions associated with miners’ industry and life: the technology and skills of coalmining, mining disasters, documentary images of miners, collieries and their environs, the camaraderie of miners, women and mining, social hardships, strikes and lockouts, politics and religion, and mining history.

Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales. pp. 32, ISBN 1-862250-16-2

The Pictorial Bible I: Settings of the Psalms

The book accompanies the exhibition of the same title. The exhibition comprises visual transliteration of biblical texts into images. The works are informed by a Protestant view of Scripture and a visual tradition predicated upon the illegitimacy of pictorializing spiritual concepts, wherein typographical representations of biblical verses and phrases substitute for religious imagery. The works aim to achieve, what Bible translators call, a ‘formal equivalence’ between text and image. Accordingly, the paintings and drawings affirm the authority of the texts, surrender to the grammatical structure and order of the Psalms, and uphold their verbal integrity to the letter. The images are neither literal nor emblematic illustrations, rather, they are illuminations, gracing the texts and shedding an intellectual light to reveal, by analogy, the architecture of the texts, aspects of their structural information, patterns of repetition, stresses, unity, symmetry, and proportion – qualities that are not evident when the Psalms are read or heard. The outcome is works that, while outwardly abstract, inhere a religious significance.

Aberystwyth: National Library of Wales, 2000. pp. 46, ISBN 1-86225-024-3

A pdf copy of the booklet can be downloaded at Settings of the Psalms


Image of the Invisible: The Visualization of Religion in the Welsh Nonconformist Tradition

In this innovative and lavishly illustrated study, John Harvey examines the visual expression of religious and spiritual concepts in Nonconformist Wales. He discusses his subject within a broad cultural context which includes fine art, architecture, preaching, hymnology and such intangible manifestations as visions.

The author argues that the Bible had a strong influence on the visual ideolect of Nonconformists during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and that this permeated their perception, interpretation and representation of life. This is perhaps most apparent in the imagery of hymns and sermon illustrations and in the vocabulary and phraseology of preachers, but its effects on Welsh visual culture was also profound and far-reaching and affected both the mode and idiom of religious visions as well as the exterior and interior features of the chapel.

John Harvey explores his subject with particular reference to the intertwined concepts of religion and mining in the south Wales coalfields. He examines the tradition of biblical identity and fusion as manifest in the visionary experiences of miners and their families since the 1904 revival: the architectural similarities between chapels, collieries and Old Testament places of worship, and sermon illustrations which derived spiritual meanings and lessons from the harsh realities of coal-mining. Latterly, this tradition is evident in the paintings of Nicholas Evans. Arguably, this principle of visualization whereby heavenly realities are clothed in tangible earthly garb constitutes one of the most distinctive manifestations of Welsh visual culture.

Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1999. pp. 218, ISBN-0-7083-1475-9


The Art of Piety: The Visual Culture of Welsh Nonconformity

Harvey’s book challenges the popular fallacy that Nonconformity had no use for art, and contests the view that Welsh Nonconformity had a wholly negative effect on the visual arts in Wales.

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the visual expression of Nonconformist culture was prolific, and a vital means of maintaining the devotional life of believers and of communicating Nonconformist ideals to those outside the faith. While Reformation doctrine prohibited the use of images in worship, it did not stop Welsh Nonconformists from using art in the service of religion, or from making a positive contribution to the visual culture of Wales.

John Harvey brings together, for the first time, the many types of religious artefacts and ephemera of Welsh Nonconformity, and examines them from art historical, theological, and sociological perspectives. He explodes the myth that chapels were devoid of artistic and symbolic elaborations by analysing the images which decorated chapel and home, commemorated leaders and notable events, and aided the teaching of the faith. Through the study of artefacts ranging from paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, stained glass, ceramics, to wall decoration and chapel furniture, banners and embroidered work, Bible illustrations and Sunday School picture-cards, the author defines the visual expression of one of the most persuasive cultural and social influences on Wales during the last two centuries.

Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1995. pp. 102, ISBN 0-7083-1298-5