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June 21, 2010

Nina Berman: Big Jesus Remembered

“I think it’s a sign of the end of the world,” said Paul Wright, 21, of Oxford. “If lightning is going to strike God, then there’s no hope.”

–from “Rebuilt Jesus statue will be fireproof, pastor says.” (Dayton Daily News)

The end of the world? How about, a symbolic reminder that the religious right has seen better days? Or maybe, it’s just a simple lesson about building things on the cheap? Whatever it is, the dramatic — some might say, soul wrenching — news of Big Jesus having burned to the ground motivated this recollection byBagNews contributor, Nina Berman.


In 2005 I visited Big Jesus, a 62-foot tall styrofoam and fiberglass statue rising from the grounds of the Solid Rock Church, a relatively small megachurch located along I-75 in Monroe, Ohio.

I sought out Big Jesus while photographing a project on megachurches around the United States. At most of the megachurches I visited, Christ and the cross were visually downplayed, to the point of being nearly invisible, but at Solid Rock, Jesus was unavoidable.

Spending a day and evening there, both inside and outside the church, I marveled at how Big Jesus, known by locals as “Touchdown Jesus,” took on different meanings and political messages, depending on my camera angles and time of day. This can be true with any scene, but with Big Jesus, the swings between extremes were especially fascinating.

To my gaze the statue appeared campy and circus-like when seen during the day next to the red and white colors of the church’s amphitheater. At night, photographed with a long exposure against purple skies and power lines, it appeared warrior-like and powerful, with the baptismal pool appearing as oil gushers; the Iraq war was on my mind.

Over the years, I’ve changed my mind over what single image best exemplifies Big Jesus. So following the spectacular news last week that lightning had struck the statue and burned it to the ground, I wanted to offer BagNews readers several images from my visit.

–Nina Berman


Caption (for all images) — The Solid Rock Church’s highly visible Jesus Christ statue could easily be seen from the interstate highway. The statue greeted a non-denominational congregation of 3,000 worshipers. During sermons, they preach against “doctors suckling brains from babies” and “rampant homosexuality”. The statue was struck by lightning and completely destroyed on June 14, 2010.

NOTE: Post updated 10:29 PM EST June 22, 2010 to include one more photo in the slideshow.

About the Photographer

Nina Berman

Nina Berman is a documentary photographer with a primary interest in the American political and social landscape. She is the author of two monographs, "Purple Hearts – Back from Iraq" and "Homeland," both examining war and militarism. Her work has been recognized with awards in art and journalism from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the World Press Photo Foundation, the Open Society Institute Documentary Fund and Hasselblad, among others. She has participated in more than 90 solo and group exhibitions, including the Whitney Museum 2010 Biennial, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the Portland Art Museum, and Dublin Contemporary. Her work has been featured on CBS, CNN, PBS, ABC, BBC and reviewed in the New York Times, Aperture, Art in America, TIME, and the New Yorker. She is a member of NOOR photo collective and is an Associate Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She lives in New York City. See more of Nina's work for Reading The Pictures here.

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