Welcome to my first blog post and the beginning of an exciting new series. This is The Faith Project – a personal project I began in September of 2016. These images have been collected from my time learning about and visiting a variety of religious groups in the Philadelphia area.
Religion is something I have always been interested in. I grew up in South Carolina – a prominent notch in the “Bible belt” – so the main religion I was exposed to was Christianity (although I did learn some about Judaism and Hinduism from friends). I read a lot about religions, but I wanted to see how these religions were practiced in real life instead of the ideas written on paper. I wanted to see the way a modern follower of Hari Krishna practices in the United States, or how a Russian Baptist integrates their culture and beliefs into the city lifestyle.
I began The Faith Project with the intent of photographing religious leaders, but I quickly realized that there was much more to the project, so I began photographing the people at these places of worship and the environments they were in. I went everywhere from Sikh gurdwaras and Muslim mosques to Buddhist temples and Mormon meeting houses. As I visited all these places, I began to notice similarities between them: the uses of music and clothing to honor their god, the significance of water and food for purification. But, the biggest similarity I found was that the people were always kind, always welcoming and always open to share about their beliefs.
Another commonality between the 17 places of worship I visited was that they were almost always in reclaimed buildings. There was a Buddhist temple in a former warehouse, a house turned Jewish community center turned mosque, and a synagogue that met in a Methodist church. This phenomenon is probably because of being in a large, historic city like Philadelphia where buildings are constantly being refurbished and reused. To me, these places are a beautiful symbol of the fact that faith can be expressed anywhere – ornate buildings and stained glass windows are not a necessity for worship.
So, throughout this series I am going to talk about my experiences within these places. Things that surprised me, stigmas that were broken and how those interactions grew me. I’m going to break it up by religion – Sikhism is coming up soon, so stay tuned!