Tales of the Bible and mall
Photo courtesy of E. Brady Robinson
“Scenes from Jesusland” shows a day at a Christian theme park. There is a daily reenactment of the crucifixion at the park.

Consumerism is culture — and anyone who says differently has never been to Las Vegas.

This culture of ambiguous ethics and taste is elegantly, and sometimes humorously, criticized in two new Orange Coast College photo exhibits — Priscilla Briggs’ “Fortune” and E. Brady Robinson’s “Scenes from Jesusland.”

Both exhibits take an anthropological point of view in examining areas seldom seen by most Americans — but their messages can be easily understood by anyone affected by advertising and merchandise — which is to say, all of us.

“Scenes from Jesusland” is an honest portrayal of something outrageous. A series of photographs taken from The Holy Land Experience Christian theme park in Orlando. Robinson’s exhibit is a thought-provoking and often hilarious look at, in her own words, “the curious crossroad of religion with tourism and commodity culture.”

It’s kitsch meets Christ.

The photographs pull no punches in their scope as they showcase the disconnect of Christian values and those being promoted by the Holy Land Experience.

In one shot, a dumbfoundingly cute donkey-costumed character, highly reminiscent of Disney, poses for the camera. In another, an actor playing Jesus, with blood gushing down his body, is beaten by Roman guards while a crowd watches and takes pictures. Children in the crowd sip from Pepsi cups and hold American flags.

The irony in these scenes is never so blatant that it comes off as preachy, but is still far from subtle. It’s funny and sad all at once. The absurdity of the pictures invoke snorts of laughter, but the theme of morality for sale is absolutely disheartening.

While Robinson‘s “Scenes” focuses on an American niche culture, Briggs’s “Fortune” explores mainstream culture in a shopping mall in China.

Briggs prefers the use of elaborate angles and technique over Robinson’s more matter-of-fact approach. She achieves the desired effect — the photos really are beautiful.

Sharp lines, corners and an array of interesting shapes adorn every photograph. High color saturation is used to emphasize the dazzling and almost threatening advertisements invading the mall. Each picture is a feast for the eyes — a pleasure to look at and a lot to absorb.

This does not at all diminish the impact of her exploration into the effects of advertising and consumerism on society’s values. While many of the photographs seem to simply want to illustrate the enormity of the mall, perhaps her message is best summarized in a photo of a painting of Mao Zedong exhibited in front of a Dairy Queen.

“Scenes from Jesusland” is on display in the Art Center Gallery and “Fortune” is on display in the Fine Arts Gallery. Both exhibits run through Nov. 22.

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