“Reclaiming sainthood: Gay artist Tony O’Connell finds holiness in LGBT people and places” (Jesus in Love Blog)

British artist Tony O’Connell documents the sacred side of queer people and places. He takes photos of saintly moments among ordinary LGBT people and records his own pilgrimages to LGBT historical sites.

O'Connell, Saint Ryan

“Saint Ryan, Patron of Learning the Arts” by Tony O’Connell

“My initial idea was an attempt to reclaim the idea of holiness as a gay artist,” O’Connell says. Based in Liverpool, he was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995.

“The intention was to democratize the notion of sacredness and the process of canonization. We do not need the permission of anyone else to see perfection in each other,” he explains.

Since 1998 he has been photographing people with haloes formed by round objects from daily life: light fixtures, mirrors, windows, baskets, the sun — and even life ring buoys. “The act of noticing the moment where a physical circle as a symbol of a halo was present is an artistic parallel to noticing those qualities in the real people themselves,” O’Connell says.

He started with portraits of himself with haloes, and then expanded to his partner and LGBT friends. Eventually he included straight allies and strangers as he took the halo concept to its logical conclusion. “The images are just examples of something that is present in them, in you, in me and in all,” he explains.

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