when the dust clears

Words about and images of matters political, social, and military

Posts Tagged ‘religion

Singleton United Methodist Church, Gloucester VA, December 27, 2013

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Virginia holiday images and video

From the BXP photo archives: 1996 & 1999

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Gulou (Drum Tower), Beijing, October 26, 1996

Gulou (Drum Tower), Beijing, October 26, 1996

When I wasn’t piloting my desk during my time in China as US News and World Report‘s Beijing Bureau Chief, I would wander streets and hutongs.

Photographing what I found dragged me out of the editorial and bureaucratic pool I steeped in most days—Beijing and Washington’s genuine conflicts and diplomatic spats; China’s labyrinthine officialdom; and the stress of being under (or believing I was under) the scrutiny of the Public Security (cops) and State Security (secret police) Bureaus.

The photo above, from the Gulou (Drum Tower) section of Beijing, is the result of such wanderings. The second picture is from the tailend of an interview of bus driver Wei Guiying (not pictured), who had been selected as a model worker by her work unit, in Hunan province’s Sansi Village. Wang Chunlei, my friend and office manager/editorial adviser also acted as translator, because we knew I would have difficulty understanding Wei’s Hunanese-flavored Mandarin. And I most certainly did.

I barely remember the interview; lunch, however, I recall vividly. Chunlei told me the family must have blown a month’s wages on the tableful of meat, vegetables—corn, greens, potatoes—and buns that they laid before us. I did my duty, good waiguo ren (foreigner) that I am, and devoured all that was scooped into my bowl.

Wei’s stepmother was housebound; her grandson was most definitely not.

Family of Wei Guiying (not pictured), Sansi Village, Hunan Province, China, December 26, 1996

Family of Wei Guiying (not pictured), Sansi Village, Hunan Province, China, December 26, 1996

Pak Ou Caves, Luang Prabang, Laos, November 1999

Pak Ou Caves, Luang Prabang, Laos, November 1999

This last photo is from a published story I did while working at Fortune magazine. I traveled to Vientiane and Luang Prabang, Laos, to write/photograph a travel piece.

Is there a theme—or themes— that unites and animates these photos? Escape? Encounter? I try to strike a balance between the literal and the lyrical, to see and photograph as an open, humble, compassionate, yet still critical observer and sometime participant.

Yes, more to come.

Singapore: Work in progress

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Masjid al Mukminin, Jurong

I have passed the halfway mark of my one-month residency at Objectifs Center for Photography and Filmmaking in Singapore. I’m teaching workshops, making presentations, and working on a project, a series of photographs (with audio and possibly video) about faith and spirituality here.

It took me two weeks of making photos in houses of worship to get any perspective on what I have actually been producing. I realized that the photographs are less about people’s “faith” and much more about the places of worship themselves and the rituals performed there.

Sri Krishnan Temple (Hindu), Waterloo Street

To gain access to these places, I have behaved like a journalist, trudging from mosque to church to temple (and telephoning as well), approaching officials, and asking for permission to photograph and record interviews. So far, I have made my pitch at roughly a dozen houses of worship, been granted varying levels of access at six, turned down by two, and don’t-call-us-we’ll-call-youed by the rest.

Hong San Si (Daoist), Kembangan

Once I have gained access, however, I have responded more like a visual artist than a reporter. I’m now working from a distance, often from the side or behind, not getting in people’s faces. I’m trying to portray something essential about the rituals of worship without turning them into exotic spectacles, and I’m trying to balance my literal, newsman’s impulse with my desire to be more lyrical.

Masjid Sultan, Kampong Glam

I think that by backing off I have granted myself a reprieve (subconsciously) from my usual journalistic confronting and prodding. But I’m also responding to the sacredness of these spaces for the worshippers. I’m not religious. In fact, I’m a rather hardheaded secular humanist. I am deeply mistrustful—and sometimes afraid—of people who use religion as a weapon to diminish, divide, and destroy those who don’t practice as they do. But I have encountered a number of exceptional people of faith in my 20-plus years as a traveling journalist/human—men and women for whom belief, not simply religion, is the organizing principle of their lives. I don’t have to understand or emulate them, but I respect them. So rather than poking and prodding people here to explain and justify their faith, I’m doing my best to look and listen.

Bethesda Chapel, Kembangan

More to follow.

16 April 2010

Written by bxpnyc

2010/04/16 at 10:29