For 70 years, the Arizona Easter Pageant, presented on a stage on the north lawn of the Mesa Arizona Temple, has used drama, music and dance to convey the life of Jesus Christ to huge audiences.
As part of this year's anniversary, Christ's story will be told additionally with photography, video and special music inside the Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center nearby. The exhibit opened in January and may be seen during the center's hours, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily, but changing to 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. during the pageant, Tuesday to March 22.
It is called "The Reflections of Christ," and pageantgoers are invited to include the exhibit during their evening on the grounds, 525 E. Main St., Mesa. Photographer Mark Mabry Jr. will display 26 images of Christ doing ministry and service to others. His photo model for Christ is Robert Allen, who played the Savior in four previous Easter pageants, and other men and women were used to portray those he met and served.
"I wanted to do a Christ-centered project," said Mabry, a Mesa-based photographer who trained at Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, Calif. At first Mabry, a photographer for nine years, conceived it as "a few shots of characters in costumes from the Easter pageant against a colored backdrop." But he set his sights much higher for more authentic settings. Working with aerial photographer Steve Porter, he identified Arizona locations comparable to terrains where Jesus walked. The entrance to a cave is the setting for the nativity, for example. Some photos were shot near Arivaca near the Mexican border.
"The past several months have been full of the most gut-wrenching, bar-raising and rewarding experiences of my life, artistically speaking," he said. Among the images are Joseph watching over Mary and the baby Jesus, Christ touching the eyes of the blind man as an act of healing, and his talking to the adulteress in a message of fostering forgiveness and breaking down walls.
"Each shoot was deeply engaging spiritually," Mabry said, adding that the project profoundly deepened his understanding of Christ's work and depth of his love. "I hope, through the Reflections of Christ exhibit, people will take the opportunity to feel those same things for themselves," he said. In the darkened gallery, color and black and white photos, some 40 inches by 60 inches, are displayed.
In a side room, visitors can also view a new 30-minute, continuously running documentary by videographer Cameron Trejo. It shows the behind-the-scenes steps that Mabry and his models went through to re-create key moments in Christ's life, such as angels taking flight by jumping on trampolines. The work is accompanied by an soundtrack composed by Clyde Bawden and using such familiar hymns as "Joy to the World" and "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing."
Attendance to see the photos and video has been as high as 1,000 per day since it opened. "It was kind of my brainchild, but Cameron put in as many hours as I did," Mabry said. "His contribution was massive."