Faith is belief without evidence, positions held without proof. In our investigation of photographic lies we cannot avoid concluding that the impulse to trust a photo with inspirational implications and to believe in an unseen, unheard God are essentially identical. They reinforce each other, they travel together like accomplices.
At 2:44 p.m. on the clear afternoon of August 21, 2017, New York City is overtaken by a total solar eclipse. Crowds jam the streets to watch. Cameras are everywhere. Three hours and twenty-three minutes later, the NYPD Holy Name Society, a group to “promote the spiritual welfare” of Roman Catholic officers of New York City Police Department, tweets a fantastic photograph. Above a dark gilt-edged disc in the blackened sky bursts a blazing cross. “Amazing photo of the #SolarEclipse2017,” they write. “The Lord Reigns.” The arms of the cross are swords of golden light across the heavens.
The ‘eclipse cross’ image has sinuous history and is not a photograph at all. The original is an illustration by a creator of “Space Art” and lover of heavy metal and Bugs Bunny, an Ohio resident named “Brandon.” In 2011, under the sobriquet “ObsidianDigital,” Brandon posts the image on DeviantArt, a Hollywood-based online art community. But what he posts is a horizontal illustration—not a vertical cross, but a blast of light aimed left. (On DeviantArt, Brandon gets a modest six or seven page views a day.)
In the social media photo frenzy surrounding the August 21, 2017 eclipse, a “Dan Asmussen” picks up the ObsidianDigital image. He spins it ninety degrees clockwise—voila: a blazing cross—and uploads it to Facebook. “Best photo so far… Not sure anyone can top this one.” Smiley face emoticon. Asmussen claims he made the photograph as the eclipse path traveled above Federal Way near Seattle. According to Snopes.com, investigator of such things, Asmussen’s “eclipse” post is shared 1.7 million times, including by the NYPD Holy Name Society.