In 2019, I was commissioned by Saint Louis University’s Lived Religion in the Digital Age initiative to photograph religion in St. Louis. What follows are text and images from this fellowship, along with several thematically related images made in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic.
Religion, as I once understood it, was something contained: a set of beliefs and practices neatly confined to the walls of institutional buildings and the pages of sacred texts. Part of my understanding was rooted in personal experience: My family used to worship at a church one day per week, and our faith was largely separate, temporally and spatially, from the rest of our lives. But moreover, this is how religion is often pictured.
Photography has a complicated history of creating and reinforcing such visual tropes. However, the act of creating photographs heightens sensory awareness and provides direct contact with the subjects of these narratives. I find that photography challenges me to reevaluate what I think I know, to look beyond what I expect to see. It is no coincidence that shortly after I learned to use a camera, I gravitated toward religion, the very topic about which I had held many superficial assumptions. Through the lens and the experiences and relationships it fosters, I now see religions spill out of the boundaries I once expected to contain them, intersecting readily with urban and natural landscapes, ethnic identity, politics, economics, and other spheres. My photographs illustrate religion as a complicated dance between formal practice and human experience, between the sacred and the everyday. My goal is not to redefine religion or where to find it, but to pose such questions and encourage nuanced ways of seeing and understanding.
I’ve taken the majority of the photos in this collection in the Midwest. Sometimes dismissed as a homogenous flyover zone, this region is somewhat of a microcosm of the United States, awash in different cultures and ideologies that meet and mingle, and sometimes tangle and clash. Far from discrete, the communities I have met are visibly in constant conversation with their surroundings and with each other.