From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

How time flies.  Feels like yesterday I was heading out to photograph on Ash Wednesday and now this weekend will be Easter and the beginning of Passover.

This year’s Ash Wednesday was maybe my best ever. For those of you visiting this blog for the first time, this year is my 15th year photographing towards my series Unto Dust, portraits of people that have received ashes on Ash Wednesday in midtown Manhattan. You can catch up on the back story from last year’s post here and more from previous year’s images on my website here.

I am often overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers when I am shooting on the street. That New Yorkers (and some out -of-towners) will stop and allow me the 5-10 minutes it takes to make a picture always astounds me. I was recently moved by Thomas Merton’s “Louisville epiphany” in Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander: Merton was a practising Trappist monk who one day realized that there is no separate special world of the holy:

“In Louisville, at the corner of Fourth and Walnut, in the center of the shopping district, I was suddenly overwhelmed by the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers[…]Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts[…]the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could all see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time. There would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed[…]I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”

When I read this I was taken aback by how closely his connection to “total strangers” aligns with how I feel towards the people I meet on the street when I am photographing. I think Thomas Merton could have been a street photographer! My hope on this 15th anniversary of my project is that people can look at this work and, regardless of religion, see themselves and their neighbors with more compassion.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

From the series Unto Dust, 2012.

I was accompanied again this year by my friend and photographer Amy Skinner who documented the day. Many thanks to Amy, NPR Picture Show blog and the TIME tumblr blog both for featuring the project last month. And as always I am grateful to the two dozen or so people who were willing subjects this year.

photograph by Amy Skinner

Photograph by Amy Skinner

All images unless otherwise noted © Greg Miller

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