Marian apparition site in Conyers is subject of photography exhibit

In 1989 Conyers, Ga., resident Nancy Fowler began having visions of the Virgin Mary. Since that time, her home in Conyers has become one of the largest and longest-lived Marian apparition sites in the United States. At its height, 80,000 people gathered on the 13th of every month to hear Fowler relate a message for the United States from the Virgin Mary.

Pilgrims visit and observe devotions such as taking Holy Water from a well that has been blessed by Mary, leaving petitions and prayers in baskets in the Apparition Room, and taking pictures of the sun to look for signs of Jesus and Mary in the images. These photographs are taken home by the pilgrims, and they become holy objects in their own right.

Victor Balaban, an Emory graduate student in psychology, has studied the apparitions at Conyers for his dissertation and has taken numerous photographs as an integral part of that work. Many of those photographs are featured in "Visions of the Virgin Mary: The Marian Apparition Site at Conyers, Georgia," on display through Dec. 31 in Schatten Gallery, Woodruff Library.

Among other facets of his study, Balaban is looking at the iconography, symbolism, language and the world views of the Marian religious community. He seeks to understand how the pilgrim's beliefs, values and experiences shape their accounts of their religious experiences.

A collaboration between the social sciences and photography--in much the same way as Dorothea Lange and Paul Taylor's An American Exodus and Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson's Balinese Character are--Balaban's work uses the strength of each discipline to produce studies that can stand alone as either works of art or studies of society.

"The true miracle of Conyers, they tell me, is in the hearts of the pilgrims," Balaban said. "I have come to respect and admire the happiness and peace that so many have found in Conyers. The warmth and openness with which they have allowed me to get to know something of their lives is something for which I am truly grateful."

Admission to "Visions of the Virgin Mary" is free. For Schatten Gallery hours, call 727-6868. For other information on the exhibition, call 727-6861.

--Joyce Bell

Return to the November 4, 1996 contents page