Introduction to The Revealer & Magnum Foundation Special Issue

Prototype mapping of The Crescent, the Cross, the Star, the Void by Oscar B. Castillo

By Kali Handelman

We are very pleased to share with you our first ever collaborative special issue. The remarkable photography and prose included here are outcomes of an exciting partnership between The Revealer and the Magnum Foundation’s On Religion project which was funded by the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs and received additional support and guidance from the Brown Institute for Media Innovation and the NYU Center for Media Culture and History. This work was created by jury-selected teams led by photographers in cooperation with artists, journalists, academics, and creative technologists. Each team received a grant from the Magnum Foundation to work in locations as far-flung as France, Mexico, Iran, Israel-Palestine, and the U.S. and each has succeeded in finding ways to give us incredibly different and deep pictures of religious life in the world today.

The result is truly an embarrassment of riches. Despite the fact that the geographies, traditions, aesthetics, and perspectives of each project vary widely, in preparing this issue we found fascinating threads connecting all of the work. There are themes of religious syncretism in Kameelah Janan Rasheed’s work from Philadelphia, just as there are in the images Yael Martinez and Orlando Velazquez produced in Guerrero, Mexico. Rasheed reflects brilliantly on how generations of movement through different religious communities and commitments led her to archival work and to the Moorish Science Temple in Philadelphia. Martinez and Velazquez met the challenges of representing the unrepresentable through their astonishing “intervened” images of traditional religious rituals in Guerrero, Mexico. Also thoughtfully and beautifully confronting issues of what the photographer can and should show, Solmaz Daryani and Sasha von Oldershausen teamed up to examine and reveal how the Mandean community of Iran is dealing with the pollution of their sacred Karun river. While, from the place we perhaps most associate with complicated interconnections between land and religion, Tanya Habjouqa and Dimi Reider created a fantastically playful and also critical depiction of the ways in which sacred and profane conflict, meet, and blur in Israel-Palestine. And reckoning in their own way with the meeting of the Abrahamic triad, colonialism, and nationalism, Oscar B. Castillo and Karim Baouz have created an incredibly wide-ranging and sensitive web of portraits in their exploration of religious life in contemporary metropolitan France.

Each of these projects is unique, showing us faces and landscapes that are revealing and challenging in myriad ways. Taken together, as a composite body of work, they are an inspiring set of models for new interdisciplinary approaches to the study of religion. We hope that they will be useful to artists, writers, scholars, and anyone else invested in asking difficult but important questions about religion. Likewise, we’d like to think that moving forward, instead of lamenting those images we wish that people would stop making and disseminating, this work will be model for producing new, better, and more complicated, and compelling work in the future.  

Speaking of which: if you like the work in this issue and will be in New York City on June 8, 2017, we strongly recommend attending the Magnum Foundation’s Photography Expanded Symposium on Collaborative Approaches to Creative Documentary Practice. There, you will have the opportunity to hear from some of the photographers included in this issue, along with an incredible line-up of other thinkers and artists. 

In the meantime, we are extremely proud to have this opportunity to share the innovative and beautiful work that these teams made together, and are deeply grateful to everyone at the Magnum Foundation and the Henry R. Luce Initiative on Religion in International Affairs for making it possible.


Kali Handelman is editor of The Revealer and program coordinator at the NYU Center for Religion and Media. 

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