The Joan of Arc Project

Joan of Arc. Who was Joan of Arc, the teenage Christian visionary who led armies against the English invaders of France in the fifteenth century, and was killed by them at the age of nineteen in 1431? There are no images of her from the time she lived, but there are statues and figurines representing her made over the succeeding centuries. In a photographic quest driven by a sense of connection to the remarkable heroine, Susan Aurinko has sought out those objects and shot them as portraits, each one expressing a different mood, but all of them unified by what Tammy Kohl, who has enriched the exhibit by her jewelry referencing Joan’s time, calls “strength.” Aurinko communicates that strength by shooting the representations of Joan’s face, which always has an iron determination, whether she is meditative and pensive, prayerful, stoical or even innocent. The photographic works take on a uniform sensibility by the digital move of putting the straight shots of Joan’s image into backgrounds from the places where she stayed in her war of liberation and through emphasizing the bronze and burnished tonality of the original shots. In the image that conveys the greatest strength, we see Joan in a chapel holding a sword, her lips grimly pursed with fierce determination and her eyes wide open, ready to do battle. Aurinko is one of Chicago’s most important photographers and here she has produced her masterwork. She has studied Joan’s life deeply and intensively, has traveled to the places where she lived, and has lived imaginatively as a visual method actor. The images are infused by the “admiration, reverence, and gratitude” that Aurinko feels toward Joan, a great figure of female power and righteousness. Joan, according to Aurinko, would not waver or concede, and always “held her ground.” She is Aurinko’s model and her images are deeply effective in showing why.

Michael Weinstein for NewCity Art

In 1412, Jeanne d’Arc, or Joan of Arc as she is known in the English-speaking world, was born. Just 19 years later, after leading an army she fought to raise, and freeing France from the English, Jeanne was burned at the stake in May of 1431, ostensibly for the crime of heresy for wearing men’s clothing. A trumped-up charge, it was designed to rid the Church of one who was powerful and thus feared. Had she been allowed to live, the powers that be would most likely have been exposed for the hypocrisy that was rampant in both church and state at that time. Based on the transcripts of the trial, there is little doubt that the people would have followed Jeanne to the ends of the earth, which naturally made her an enemy of the Church. Following a more than 25 year effort on the part of Jeanne’s mother and others, she was exonerated of the crime of heresy in 1456. Nearly 500 years later, in 1920, Jeanne was canonized, named a saint by Pope Benedict the XV, at Saint Peter’s Basilica. More than 30,000, including 140 people descended from her family, were in attendance.

Although even schoolchildren know about Jeanne d’Arc, and the stories of her courage and determination are both legendary and borne out as true in the 367 pages of the trial’s transcripts from the mouths of witnesses, there is no actual image of her that remains, or perhaps none was ever created, save a crude line drawing in profile, which may or may not be Jeanne. And yet, literally hundreds, perhaps thousands, of images of Jeanne have been created since her untimely death, each artist portraying her as he or she imagines her to have looked.

At Rouen, where she was burned, there is a simple plaque in the garden of Jeanne d’Arc Church showing the exact place where the deed took place. It is painfully, poignantly small, but to the left stands the actual monument, a long wall etched with the following words:

O Jeanne, sans sepulchre et sans portrait, tois qui avais que le tombeau des heros est la coeur des (Oh, Joan, without a tomb, without a portrait, you who have a hero’s tomb in the heart of the living.)

I began this project in the summer of 2013 after visiting the Chateau de Chinon in France, where Jeanne d’Arc traveled to ask the Dauphin for troops to raise the siege of Orleans. As I studied and researched Jeanne’s short life, I became fascinated with the multitude of images of her that exist, with no two being remotely alike. A second journey to France to drive throughout the country capturing as many of these items, both two and three dimensional, as I could, yielded dozens more, as well as images of all the places that figured into her short but intense life. I have also photographed Chicago artist Robin Dluzen, to represent my vision of Jeanne, and intermingled images of her with those of the statuary as well as some of the 209 Joan of Arc churches that exist in the United States. I have then collaged and layered these images, placing images of Jeanne in real-life settings that were important in her story, and to embellish them, in some cases, as was done on manuscripts of the time, with actual gold-leafed text; Jeanne’s own words, in her native tongue. The pieces, framed in heavy gold as portraits might have been presented in the church at the time, are meant to have an object quality, and to give a face to a heroine from the people and of the people. As each image of Jeanne is from the imagination of the artist who created it, each piece from this series is a unique object, unlike any of the others.

Together, the pieces of the series attempt to form a concept of the physical truth of Jeanne d’Arc, and define the brief period that was her life. They give substance to the name by showing many faces created by artists over time to breathe life into this incredible young woman, and define her journey in a visual, inspired, and reverent context.

Local Color

Windows | Reflets

Walls |La Poesie Des Affiches



Mannequins (No Thoughts)

Spirits in Stone



Visages des Visages




Dreaming in Color

Flea Markets






Searching for Jehanne

The Joan of Arc Project

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