THE advertisement for the South Bank Photo Show uses a picture of Our Lady surrounded by flowers and candles. She appears to wear a transparent crown but at the exhibition it becomes clear that the halo is a condom.
This at first seems shocking and unbelievable. The figure is so small you have to look twice. The photographer. Brazilian Rogerio David, says that he found it very difficult to take the prize-winning picture called Madonna Dressing Up as he was brought up a Catholic and believes in God. But he also believes that the Church's birth control teaching is out of date and chose Mary as a familiar icon to represent the Church when making his point.
"Icon" is the theme at the South Bank Photo Show in the Royal Festival Hall (daily until July 26; free). The most popular image amongst the 2,500 submitted works was Canary Wharf.
Bruce Thorndike's Docklands portfolio suggests a fascist symbol erected at the expense of the poor nearby and with a disregard for the so-called lucky ones in the tiny new homes below the monstrosity.
Some who saw "Icon" as having a religious dimension have been less restrained than Rogerio David. Denis Doran's Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence may cause some unease.
Another Doran picture shows a homeless Romanian child with a Pepsi-Cola bottle. In the catalogue competition judge Shirley Read recalls a photograph which became an icon for the Sandinistas. It showed a young man with a crucifix throwing a molotov cocktail made from a Pepsi bottle. To many he was throwing back economic imperialism as part of Liberation Theology when peaceful solutions had failed.
South America is the subject of a touring exhibition by Carlos Reyes whose work has appeared in the Catholic Herald. He could be mistaken for a conventional snapper on hand at big Catholic events involving the hierarchy, but his exhibition of 70 black and white prints is part of an attempt to present an alternative view.
Carlos Reyes-Manzo has been a photo-journalist for 27 years. having studied at the Catholic University's film institute in his home country, Chile. After the 1973 military coup he spent two years in prison before going into exile in Panama and working for the Bishops' Conference.
But his documentary work brought expulsion and one can understand why at his exhibition marking the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in America. Reyes says that "Spain did not discover Latin America; the nations of Latin America discovered the cruelty of Europeans".
One chilling picture shows goose-stepping Bolivian troops passing a saluting base which includes strong Church representation. Sinister military officers are shown carrying Our Lady of Peace.
Other photographs, from all over South America, suggest that to survive children offer a roadside windscreen cleaning service almost as soon as they can walk. Food comes from discarded tins and too many of the healthy looking teenagers are holding guns.
During the recent massacre of Jesuits in El Salvador the murderers turned their machine guns on the portrait of Archbishop Romero. It was Catholic Herald cameraman Carlos Reyes' photograph they shot at. His pictures can be seen at Clifton Cathedral from July 17 to 26 and at London's Barbican Centre in November.
• A highly important Rubens drawing of "A Jesuit Missionary in Chinese Costume" came up for sale at Christie's, the London auction house, this week It was expected to fetch in the region of Poo.00a The sitter shown in the early 17th century chalk study is believed to be the French missionary Nicholas Trigault, who became a Jesuit in 1594 and travelled to India and China in 1606.
By showing the priest in the oriental costume adopted by the Jesuits in the East, the picture highlights the Society's enlightened attitude towards Chinese customs under the leadership of Matteo Ricci. Ricci had studied the language and culture of the East while in Macao.