Tag Archives: Religion

Basement Vodou: Haitian Spirituality in Brooklyn

An Irish Catholic upbringing contributed to photographer Shannon Taggarts lifelong interest in the rituals and art of religion. After photographing Spiritualistspeople who believe they can communicate with the deadin upstate New York, Taggart has since been documenting the Haitian religion of Vodou since moving to Brooklyn in 2005.

Taggarts project began when she met a Mambo, or female Vodoupriest, named Rose Marie Pierre, who runs a temple in the basement of a nondescript storefront in the working class neighborhood of Flatbush. It was here that Taggart made these images of priests and laymen undergoing possession by the Loapowerful spirits that act as intermediaries between humankind and Vodous distant god, Bondye. Most Loa are benign, some are malevolent, but every spirit has a distinct personality, role in the world and set of demands and services. In their different ways, practitioners believe, these spirits determine our fate and must be consulted and appeased.

Beckoning the Loa requires elaborate preparations unique to the particular spirit desired. Practitioners indicate the Loa they want to call upon by drawing its vever, or symbol, in cornmeal sprinkled on the floor. They place offerings on an altar and perform particular songs and dances. When the Loa possesses the worshiper Taggart says the scene becomes wild, very physical and intense. Though she works with black-and-white still images, Taggart is able to convey the noise and energy of these rituals.There is screaming and thrashingsometimes [congregants] run around the room as if confused. It can happen suddenly, so it’s often jarring. People immediately gather around the one possessed and assist them with what they need and catch them if they collapse. Practitioners say the experience induces short-term amnesia; Mambo Rose Marie is always surprised (sometimes shocked) to see my documentation of what has taken place while she was possessed, recalls Taggart.

Popular culture often depicts Vodouas dark and menacing, but fails to understand its more unusual elements. One example, animal sacrifice, exists to rejuvenate the Loa after exhausting ceremonies. Taggart says that the chickens, pigs, goats and cows are killed humanely and eaten immediately. In Haiti, where there was no safe way to store meat, the practice provided people with a regular source of safe nourishment, Taggart explained.

Another often misunderstood practice is the presence of weapons in Vodouceremonies. A man in slide #2 is shown possessed by a warrior spirit named Ogou. He holds a large machete symbolic of that Loa. But as Taggart explains, weapons like these are not used to harm others. Instead, they are relics of Haitian slavery that Vodoupractitioners have appropriated as symbols of their faithmuch as the cross is a relic of Christian persecution that Christians have turned into a symbol of their faith. These exercises, born of practical and psychological necessity, are far from the spooky behavior that appears so often in film and folklore.

This December, several of these Brooklyn practitioners will undergo a two-week long initiation rite in Haiti. Accompanying them will be Mambo Rose Marie and Taggart, who will photograph the ceremonies. Blog Commenting . I don’t know what I will find there, but I am assuming it will be a special experience, she says.

Shannon Taggart is a Brooklyn-based photographer. See more of her work here.

The Ultra-Holy City: Photographs by Oded Balilty

The Kiryat Yovel section of Jerusalem is a seemingly serene urban glade, but in recent years, tension has grown in the area as more and more ultra-Orthodox families have bought up homes and apartments in what has historically been a majority secular neighborhood.

This shift in Kiryat Yovel is indicative of a greater trend in Jerusalem. As Oded Balilty’s photographs depict—here, and in the new issue of TIME—a more and more common visual element in Jerusalem is jet black fabric.

Jerusalem is rapidly becoming a city of ultra-Orthodox, the intensely observant Jews whose entire lives are devoted to studying Torah, and living by the rules it dictates, as interpreted by the rabbi who leads their specific sect, and issues the dress code. They are the fastest growing population in Israel today and in 20 years, demographers say, the ultra-Orthodox will account for 1 in 5 Israelis.

Oded Balilty—AP for TIME

The international cover of the August 13, 2012 issue of TIME.

Historically, the movement known in Hebrew as haredi—or trembling, as in God-fearing—flowed from the summary rejection of the Enlightenment by charismatic clerics in Eastern Europe. Their edicts on attire, hair style and separation of the sexes lend a preserved-in-amber quality to ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, which in broad terms simply reject modernity—the movement so many prominent Jews (think: Spinoza) did so much to usher in. Housing shortages have pushed the ultra-Orthodox into neighborhoods across the city, but the places they have lived longest, near Jerusalem’s downtown core, tend to be run down. In large part, that’s because ultra-Orthodox tend to be poor, with an average of seven children and a father who studies at a yeshiva all day, rather than working for wages. But it’s not only a matter of money.

Pre-occupied with the Next World, “they practice anti-aestheticism; they don’t consider aesthetics important,” says Menachem Friedman, a Bar Ilan University professor who devoted his career to studying ultra-Orthodox and marvels at their growing power.

“I remember in my childhood, symbols of religion, like sidelocks, was something you had to be ashamed of,” says Friedman, 76 this year. “Most of the rabbis shaved. You had to be modern. You had to adjust yourself to the world. Not any more.”

Karl Vick is TIME’s Jerusalem bureau chief.

Oded Balilty is a Pulitzer-Prize winning photographer for the Associated Press based in Tel Aviv. LightBox featured his work earlier this year in The Art of StorytellingThe Stone Throwers of Palestine and The Ultimate Prize Fighters: Practicing Peace through Boxing in Israel.

The Living Book of Mormon

Every summer for the past 75 years, the earliest stories of Mormonism come to life on a stage set high on the Hill Cumorah in Palmyra, N.Y. The location, considered to be the birthplace of Mormonism, is where the Angel Moroni delivered the golden plates toJoseph Smith,the religion’s founding father.The annual event attracts thousands of tourists who come not only for the show but to visit the sites that set the foundations of their religion, like the Sacred Grove and the farm where Joseph Smith lived.

Lauren Lancaster for TIME

The recreated barn on the Joseph Smith Sr. Family Historic Farm and Sacred Grove.

LightBox sent Lauren Lancaster to photograph the pageant’s opening night. It was her first experience learning about Mormonism, and Lancastersuggested we speak to the actors in the performance. carrera de fotografia . LightBox asked 16-year-old Samuel Hatch from Salt Lake City, the actor playing Joseph Smith, to explain the event and how it feels to be the leading man of the show.

What is the pageant about?

The show is about the Book of Mormon and how the records were brought fourth in the latter days by Joseph Smith.

How did you end up in the play?

My mom came for three years when she was a teenager. She had such a wonderful experience and wanted our family to do it. I didn’t expect to get the part of Joseph Smith, but I did.

Why do you think you were chosen to play Smith?

They were not just looking for someone to only deliver lines but were looking for someone with the right hair and physical appearance, I think.

How long do you get to practice?

I was cast on the 6th of July. It’s not too complex but I have to make sure I have my lines down.

The cast consists of around 750 people playing 1,200 parts, but I only get to play one.

What’s the best part?

The most insightful part for me has been to think about the man (Smith) establishing the church. I wonder if I would had that strength? It’s humbling to me because he was such an amazing man.

What was the hardest part of being in the show?

At first it was intimidating, thinking about a nightly audience of 5,000, but I’ve lost that fear and now I do my best to help the others find the spirit.

Can you tell us about the hair style?

My hair was pretty long and they saw potential in it. I had two haircuts one day and then another. Its kind of unfortunate but its for a good cause so I took that mindset.

Lauren Lancaster for TIME

The Book of Mormon displayed in many languages.

Do you see yourself doing it again?

I would most definitely do it again. In the future I hope to bring my family here, just as my mom shared this experience with us.

The Hill Cumorah Pageant, an annual summer event, is performed in Palmyra, N.Y., each night through July 21. For more information, visit their sitehere.

Twisted Nostalgia: Life After the Troubles

A graffiti-ridden wall dividing Protestant and Catholic communities. A teenage boy defiantly packing drugs into a battered homemade bong. A man gazing at a memorial wreath nailed to a brick wall. The whitewashing of a propaganda mural – the last of its kind. These are the scenes of modern Belfast. The images, both resonant and ordinary, are part of photographer Adam Patterson’s series, Men and My Daddy. The collection of photographs – which features both documented stills from Patterson and found images – tells the story of how the members of Northern Ireland’s largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defense Association, are adjusting to life after the notorious Troubles.

Courtesy Adam Patterson

UDA and UVF members pose for a snapshot taken inside the Maze prison in the early 1990s. The title of Patterson’s project comes from the words on the back of the picture, written by the daughter of Tommy (front row, 4th from the left), who features in the project.

“I felt it was a really interesting time; it was a transitional period,” Patterson, who was born in Northern Ireland, said of the country after the fighting had ceased. For decades Northern Ireland was largely characterized by violence and terror as the country divided into two camps: the Protestant unionists and the Catholic nationalists. In 1971, the UDA emerged as a force to be reckoned with, instigating some of the region’s most mobilized fighting. When the conflict was brought to an end and paramilitary groups pledged their commitment to the peace process, the UDA – much like Northern Ireland – was faced with the task of reinventing itself.

Intrigued by the work that was being done, Patterson built relationships with several members of the community. He began documenting one project that focused on repainting the various murals around the region, which featured armed men in what was part of a “fear campaign” established by the UDA. “The idea is to change the murals so they still symbolize the traditions of the area, but not in a violent way,” said Patterson. But soon he became interested in what the reformed men — and their offspring — were dealing with internally as well. Though many were committed to change, Patterson noted that it was a lot easier said than done: “Obviously when people sign up to the peace process minds don’t change overnight.”

As he spent more time at home in Northern Ireland, he came to recognize the different way the country’s youth, who’d only heard of The Troubles secondhand, viewed the process towards peace. “The young people kind of become frustrated that they’ve been cheated out of fighting for this nostalgic idea that’s passed down through the generations,” said Patterson. “They don’t hear the tales of misery or the prison sentences, they only hear these elements of nostalgic stories. They feel like they’ve missed out.” Photographs of youths continuing the traditions of the previous generation — such as building massive bonfires while still being wary of rival youths — attest to the deceptive allure of the country’s history. It’s what Patterson calls a “twisted nostalgia.”

Yet as he became more immersed in his work, Patterson soon felt his own feelings about The Troubles growing complicated as well. “Obviously, I was initially quite apprehensive about it because I didn’t know much about [former UDA members] besides what you’d read in the newspapers which is never good,” he said. “Whether I’ve met these guys or actually think they’re nice guys, is irrelevant to some extent. What the organization stood for and what the organization did was terrible. That’s not excused. But a lot of these guys today would think the same thing.”

Though Patterson maintains that he doesn’t shoot to “change people’s opinions,” after working in his native country he’s come to appreciate the biggest challenge facing these reformed extremists: forging a better path for their sons and daughters to follow.

“It’s about helping young people find a passion,” he says, “so they have something to try and emulate beyond their uncles and forefathers in the very recent history.”

Adam Patterson is a Northern Irish photographer. More of his work can be seen here. Patterson is currently showing work from his project A Very Normal Place at RUA RED in Dublin.

Church and State: The Role of Religion in Cuba

Shortly after establishing his communist revolution in 1959, Fidel Castro declared Cuba an “atheist” state and all but shut down the Roman Catholic church on the island. But ever since the Soviet Union collapsed, and the Cuban economy with it, Fidel and his younger brother Raúl, who has taken over as President, have looked to the church and its charitable missions for help. Pope John Paul II’s historic visit in 1998 helped resurrect the Cuban church – and today its bishops have emerged as political as well as spiritual players, brokering the release of political prisoners and broadening the island’s fledgling private sector. The church now is nothing less than the first and only alternative institution to the Cuban Revolution.

But Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Cuba this week is a reminder that the Cuban church is not without its critics on both sides of the communist divide. Castro foes accuse it of being too timid about confronting the government’s repression of human rights, democracy and free speech and scold it for not using its new influence to hasten a Havana Spring. Meanwhile, Castro police and militants, fearing the church is actually doing too much to encourage regime change, are increasingly jailing and harassing Catholic dissidents like the Damas de Blanco (Ladies in White).

Church leaders insist they’re planting the seeds of Cuba’s long-term democratization. Either way, as Tomás Munita’s somber but arresting photos point out to us, both the island’s secular and religious worlds are still in a state of disrepair. The church is in a rare position to renovate them – and it’s under pressure now to move a lot faster than those vintage cars in Munita’s shots.

Tomas Munita is a freelance photographer based in Santiago, Chile. See more of his work here.

Religion Road: Liz Hingley’s Under Gods

For photographer Liz Hingley, one of the most familiar locales was also one of the most uncharted. The images in her series “Under Gods” capture cultures from all parts of the globe, many in various states of religious practice. In one, a Jainist woman prays while wearing a mask over her mouth, preventing her from inadvertently breathing any microbes or insects in, which would go against her religion’s non-violent beliefs. Another photograph shows three Catholic children, Polish immigrants, rehearsing carols. In another, a Hare Krishna trudges uphill, through the snow, to distribute books. Each photograph seemingly shows a different world, yet all of the images were shot along a single stretch of road in Birmingham, U.K.

Crammed along a two-mile stretch on Soho Road are more than 30 religious buildings in a city that is home to more than 90 different nationalities. Hingley grew up in Birmingham so she had personal knowledge of the religious diversity that existed in her hometown, which she was often reminded of whenever she returned. “I was going back to Birmingham and seeing this celebration among all this diversity and I thought that this was something that I wanted to look at,” Hingley, the daughter of two Anglican priests, told TIME.  And look she did, spending nearly two years capturing the practices and interactions of this multi-faith community. The result is the Under Gods: Stories From Soho Road series, which has been shown around the world and made into a book.

Though she was familiar with the area, having lived in Birmingham until she was 18, Hingley said she was caught off guard by the religious mélange the community held. “I had no idea that there were so many different religions and practices going on in just one street,” she said.

It was a lot to document. A day of shooting could start as early as 5 a.m. meeting Hare Krishnas who gathered to chant, before she’d attend a lunch at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple and then move on to the park with members of the Jesus Army, an evangelical Christian movement. “It was a very difficult project to finish [each evening] because you’re tired at the end of the day and you think, oh, I’ll just see what that building is,” said Hingley, who describes herself as “nosy.”

That nosiness clearly paid off, however, as she captured some wonderfully intimate moments. Several photographs show the ways in which the different cultures overlap in the small community, as their paths frequently intersected. One photograph shows a young Muslim girl, cloaked in Islamic dress, speaking over the fence in her backyard to her Jehovah witness neighbors. Another shows a Jain schoolgirl, sitting on the floor reading in front of an Indian sitar while beside her poses another girl, her neighbor, in white ruffled Holy Communion dress.

For all of the stark contrasts that appear in the work, there’s also a sense of ease to the images. Soho Road — which enfolds people of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, Christian and Sikh faiths — appears as a cultural mosaic, with each set of traditions represented as a distinct part of the community’s whole. Hingley said that the work has inspired her to continue the series in Paris, where she’s just completed a show with Next Level projects, adding that she’s interested in the experiences of religion in the secular state. She’s also quick to point out that her series isn’t about dogmatic beliefs, but rather how beliefs pervade people’s lives. She claims that Stories From Soho Road was personal for her—a look at her own journey living in Birmingham.

“I don’t feel that it’s documenting religion or just that. I feel it’s about many things. Religion is definitely a part of your daily life. It’s everything,” she said. “I wanted to show what it gives people and the beauty it can bring to people’s lives.”

Liz Hingley is a photographer currently based in Paris. See more of her work here.

Megan Gibson is a Writer-Reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson

Christopher Churchill on American Faith

In 2004, Christopher Churchill began a personal journey with his vintage Deardorff 8×10 camera, driving thousands of miles across the country to photograph what he describes as “an America that felt divided” and “caught in the middle of a cultural tension.” It was three years after the attacks on September 11, 2001 and the photographer was noticing a palpable intolerance in the country. “Questions of what or who was considered American were very prevalent,” Churchill says. “And religion was in the middle of this debate.” This feeling led him to start asking people about their faith, and the resulting journey is the subject of his Chuchill’s first monograph, American Faith, published this month by Nazraeli Press.

In the introduction of the book, Churchill says, “I had assumed that in order to have faith in your life you must be religious. However, when I would ask individuals I encountered through my travels what they placed their faith in, their responses would be something much more universal and simple than religion.”

Churchill had no specific plan when he set out on the road, but followed an intuitive journey where one subject led to the next. How does someone document a faith or an idea that’s invisible? Churchill began by making formal yet intimate portraits of his subjects. Then he carefully weaved in recorded responses from his subjects to his questions about their beliefs. Thomas Putman of Ponca City, Oklaholma, who was photographed holding his young son, told Churchill, “I believe in God. But everybody has a different belief, and as long as it furthers you in life and gives you a better perspective on the things you do in life, then I don’t really care what you believe in.” The response is one of tolerance mixed with independence that feels intrinsic to American culture.

In the book, portraits are interspersed with landscapes and documentary photographs, adding contemplative spaces. In a photograph of tourists looking out at the majesty of the Grand Canyon, Churchill conjures ideas of American transcendentalism, which holds the idea that one must find themselves thought self reflection, which often takes place alone in nature. An image of such idyll could feel slightly ironic or trite, but not in the style of Churchill’s work. He creates a tableau in soft black and white, where the viewer is gently presented with a space to ponder the majesty themsleves.

Churchill himself was not raised with religion. “I find my faith these days is in my family, the kindness of strangers and or course photography,” he says. “I’ve found that if I can get my brain past the obstacles of any given day and think about time from a larger perspective, there seems to be a path that is perfectly sequential and beyond coincidental. And I find great faith in that.”

American Faith was published this month by Nazraeli Press.

Christopher Churchill is a photographer based in Massachusetts. See more of his work here

The Blood of Bird and Beast: The Persistence of Animal Sacrifice

Animal sacrifice is older than history. Human beings have slaughtered birds and livestock throughout the ages in attempt to propitiate the gods—to alter fate, to enhance fortune, to pay for sins. One of the great hymns of the Rigveda is that of the Horse Sacrifice, which only a king can perform. The rituals continue to this day, as the photographs in this collection show: in the Muslim and Hindu worlds, as well as in Judaism. The first murder related in the bible stems from jealousy over sacrifice. Cain’s sacrifice of vegetables did not please God as much as his brother’s sacrifice of animals—and so Cain slew Abel.

Of the world’s great faiths, only Buddhism and Daoism eschew rituals of animal sacrifice, indeed, the taking of any life. Indeed, according to legend, one of the Buddha’s previous incarnations gave up his life to feed a hungry tiger. The various Christian sects and denominations very rarely perform animal sacrifices. But the very Catholic societies of Spain and Latin America still hold bullfights, which are descended from pagan animal sacrifices. And, of course, at the heart of Christianity is a sacrament that is essentially a human sacrifice.

Checkout LightBox’s Animal Magic: Curious Critters. The fourth installment of recent news images that reveal the endless wonders of the animal kingdom.