Divine Works: Expressions of Faith in Two Religious Communities as Seen in the Photographs of Kristin Bedford

A body of color photography by Kristin Bedford recently acquired as part of the Rubenstein Library Archive of Documentary Arts offers striking images of religious practices in two very different communities of faith, and at the same time challenges cultural stereotypes of African-American worship. The two projects that came out of her experience are titled “Be Still: A Storefront Church in Durham,” and “The Perfect Picture.”

While an MFA student at Duke University, Bedford visited and photographed adults and children in the urban congregation of the Apostolic Deliverance Rebirth Outreach Ministries in Durham, North Carolina for a period of ten months. During worship, she sat in the pews among the congregants, capturing in these rich color portraits what she calls “stillness, contemplation, and the moments between the moments.”

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Cario, September 30, 2012

 

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Larya, March 17, 2013

 

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Quadir, February 10, 2013

Credit: Kristin Bedford photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

Bedford’s approach to joining these worshippers while photographing them also informed her stay with a utopian community founded by Father Divine in the 1930’s, whose members call themselves the “International Peace Mission Movement.”  Bedford lived and worked with the community for five weeks in the summer of 2013 at their estate near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She documented their faith as it is lived out in everyday acts of racial harmony and guided by the divine nature of work: a form of the medieval commandment of “ora et labora.”  Bedford came away with extraordinary views of a community that remains devout and committed to the movement despite a declining membership.  She titled this project “The Perfect Picture,” an acknowledgment of Father Divine’s credo that the act of taking a photograph is akin to the faith-driven act of striving for unity and perfection in life.

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The Perfect Picture

 

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Mother and Father Divine Ornaments for “American Christmas”

 

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Father’s Estate, “The Mountain of the House of the Lord”

Credit: Kristin Bedford photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University

The photographs and supporting materials in “Be Still: A Storefront Church in Durham,” and “The Perfect Picture,” are available for research use in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.  An online guide has been prepared for the collection.  Please contact a reference archivist before coming to use this collection.

Post contributed by Lisa McCarty, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts, and Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Visual Materials Processing Archivist.




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