Apr. 4, 2007

God's Close-Up

An artist, his Jesus-model, the model’s girlfriend, the girlfriend’s father, and a bunch of bearded men all converge in Utah. An elaborate artistic tableau is set up in the desert, and there are several attempts by the faithful and the not-so-faithful to bridge the divide between them. Nancy Updike reports.

You can watch this episode on Amazon PrimeHulu, iTunes, or Showtime.


We visit a small town in the middle of the Mojave desert where every month, several hundred people gather to take pictures of the sun. Polaroids are the cameras of choice, and the people say their photos develop with images and messages from God—pictures of the Virgin Mary, the Pope, staircases to heaven. And we answer a question: why, if you already believe without question that God exists, do you need photographic proof?

God's Close-Up

This entire episode is devoted to a single act, the story of several unlikely people brought together by an equally unlikely undertaking. Reporter Nancy Updike tells the story of Ben McPherson, an artist and devout Mormon who's creating a series of paintings depicting scenes from the life of Jesus Christ. Ben first stages these scenes in an elaborate tableau using props and actors in period costumes. He then lights and photographs them, later using the photos as references for his enormous, lifelike paintings. One of Ben’s problems is that to make the paintings historically accurate, the men must have beards. But Mormonism frowns on facial hair, so Ben searches Utah's homeless shelters and anarchist cafes for bearded men to use as models. His Jesus is a Marxist economics grad student named Matt Bradbury, whose girlfriend Kristi Davis, a lapsed Mormon who fled to New York City, isn’t too happy about his modeling gig.