Picturing the Past


"Portraits of Selma" displays an Edmundite's photographic eye

Fr. Arthur Rivard '28, an Edmundite nicknamed "Rocky" because he worked in Vermont granite quarries early in life, was an enthusiastic amateur astronomer, magician and photographer.

Rivard exhaustively documented life in the Order's Southern Missions in the late 1940s and 1950s when he was posted there. Sixteen beautiful prints of his most magical and human photos, culled from thousands of old negatives, were displayed in the Durick Library for February, in a show called "Portraits from Selma."

Fr. Rivard favored a posed portrait style popular in Life and other magazines of the '30s and '40s. Jordan Douglas, photography instructor, made the new prints from the old negatives. He says occasional technical or artistic imperfections in the priest's images are counterbalanced by compelling human intangibles on the plus side. "His portraits seem very loving - like he was trying to be very inclusive and really document his experience. Clearly he really cared about the people he was photographing," Douglas says.

That accurately reflects the personal experience of Fr. Ray Doherty SSE '51, who knew Fr. Rivard well. "He was my novice director right after the Marines and was a very wonderful man, very down-to-Earth, mature, sensible and talented," Fr. Ray recalls. "He had a great interest in God’s Creation generally - a well-rounded Renaissance man, very humble and holy - a saintly man."

Fr. Rivard, a central Vermont native, worked in granite quarries for a time with a relatively late vocation, and had the huge and impressively strong hands of a laborer, Fr. Ray recalls. He also was an expert on St. John of the Cross’s spirituality and produced a photographic mediation based on that great saint's poetry.

Most of his work shows daily life in poor rural Alabama minority communities in the '40s and '50s.

Douglas says he enjoyed working on the Rivard prints. "They really encapsulate those wonderful moments that express this really important part of American history right on the edge of the Civil Rights movement in the South, and this community right up against those biases and struggles," he says. "He's really making this kind of loving contact, and I gained an appreciation for those faces and moments."

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