Iron Mountain — A Michigan woman’s restoration of an image of the Shroud of Turin will capture the eyes of the photographic world in January at an international print competition.
More importantly, Kathy Falls hopes to capture hearts and imaginations with what, she believes, is a representation of the very face of Jesus himself.
Falls, of Iron Mountain in the Upper Peninsula and formerly of St. Patrick Parish (now Divine Grace) in Carleton, will have her image, “Finding the Face of Jesus,” displayed at the Professional Photographers of America’s International Print Competition from Jan. 14-16 at the Gaylord Opryland Convention Center in Nashville, Tenn.
It’s an accomplishment 35 years in the making, and one Falls says has changed her life as a photo restoration specialist and a Catholic.
“He kept nudging me through this process. I kept hearing Him say, ‘I want My face to be seen.’ He wants people to see him,” said Falls, a photo restoration specialist by trade. “For years, I’ve had this inner nudge that I needed to restore it, but I never could get it the way I wanted it. I would sit in front of it and ponder it and meditate on it, and finally a couple of years ago I got it done.”
It might sound odd to some to refer to the finished product as a “restored photograph” of Christ, but to Falls, that’s exactly what it is.
“I took the original image of the shroud and I enhanced it, which would be an easy way to understand it,” Falls said. “It’s enhanced because the darks are darker and the lights are lighter, but if you take my image and overlay it in a computer with the image of the shroud, everything lines up exactly perfect.”
Falls’ interest in the project dates back to the 1970s, when she first saw a documentary on television about the shroud, believed to be the burial cloth of Jesus himself.
“When I saw it, I was just blown away, and I said, ‘I really want to look into this,’” Falls said.
To get started, Falls contacted Barrie Schwortz, the official documenting photographer for the Shroud of Turin Research Project, which extensively studied the historic and faith-filled artifact in 1978.
“When I talked with Barry and told him what I wanted to do, he gave me permission to use his image,” Falls said.
After going back and forth sketching and retouching various elements of the image to no satisfaction, Falls finally had a breakthrough.
The high-contrast image most people see of the shroud, Falls said, is actually a negative of the original, “which is very faint,” Falls said.
“However, when I was working on the negative image, I just wasn’t successful in getting the end result. So I went to the original copy of the cloth and it just all came together,” Falls said.
There are a few details in the image, such as Jesus’ skin tone and eye color, that couldn’t be deduced directly from the shroud itself, so Falls started to research.
“I wanted the coloring to be exact, so I went to St. Faustina, because she had visions of Jesus, and he told her to have a painting made,” Falls said. “She had an artist paint the portrait of Divine Mercy, but she was never really satisfied with it. She never really thought the artist captured what she was describing, but she did get the coloring right, because St. Faustina would have told her about his complexion and eye color.”
That’s why, in Falls’ completed image, Jesus’ eyes are brown, instead of the blue typically portrayed in movies, Falls said.
“Of course, his eyes were closed (in the shroud image), but one of the skills a good retoucher can do is open closed eyes,” Falls said.
Over the years, the advance in digital imaging technology helped tremendously in moving the project along, Falls said.
“I used computer technology, but I also used old technology, dyes and pencils and things to help me get started,” Falls said.
Working directly with what many believe is the actual face of Christ led Falls to develop a deep devotion to the Holy Face — a spirituality that fell somewhat out of favor after World War I, but whose proponents have included great saints such as St. Therese of Lisieux, Falls said.
“The Little Flower’s name was Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She belonged to the confraternity of the Holy Face,” Falls said. “She reeled me in.”
When Falls moved to the Upper Peninsula four years ago, she discovered a Carmelite monastery two miles down the road, and before too long became a third-order Carmelite herself.
“That’s part of what Carmelites do,” Falls said of the devotion to the Holy Face. “Interestingly enough, I was also born in Mt. Carmel Hospital, so we’re always joking about that at the monastery.”
After revealing her completed image publicly, Falls said she’s received numerous compliments.
“Everyone that has seen it absolutely loves it. My local parish (American Martyrs in Kingsford) put it on display for Christ the King Sunday,” said Falls, whose image also won a blue ribbon from the Professional Photographers of Michigan. “I was talking to my priest about it, and he said, ‘This is great for evangelization.’ I gave one of my Protestant friends a copy and she took it to her church and said everyone saw it and cried.”
Though the image has had a spiritual impact on Falls and others, Falls said having the before and after image accepted and juried in the peer-reviewed Professional Photographers of America competition is vindication of the quality of the work itself.
“They have 10,000 people attending from all over the world. They get thousands of entries into the print competition, and only a small percentage are accepted,” said Falls, who also had two other images accepted in the competition. “So I felt really good about that. It passed the test.”
Falls is in the process of writing a book about the historical devotion to the Holy Face, as well as her own experiences, that she expects to publish in the coming year.
Though it’s nice to have professional recognition of a job well done, that’s not the best part for Falls.
“The most fabulous thing is how much closer it’s brought me to Jesus. That would be the exclamation point,” Falls said. “You can imagine sitting in front of him for years, looking at his face. A lot of people don’t take time to do that, to really meditate and look at what he suffered for us.
“There’s not a signature in the corner of the shroud that says ‘God,’” Falls continued. “And I won’t sign this because I feel it’s not my work; it’s the Holy Spirit working through me.”