Images of ecstasy and tranquillity with Act of Faith

October 2007 -

Act of Faith is this year's title for the annual photo exposition Noorderlicht, in and around Groningen. The exposition explores conflicts between personal values and social systems. From all over the world, 130 photographers were invited to personally interpret this theme.


Faith is often an excuse for fighting economic and territorial battles. Many of the photos appear to explore the regular ethnic/religious conflicts: images we know from television. People waving in ecstasy, furious Muslims, desperate Sikhs, pedantic Protestants, girls who were once beautiful now scarred by acid because they violated some rule. Are these acts of faith? Is the faith of others always so threatening?

The danger of photography is that it loves to scream: a photo wants to be etched onto our retinas. The tranquil images only get noticed when we take a closer look. The images made with love and respect for the subject. The children, looking a bit lost in their parents' faith. The empty look in the face of the boy captured by David Farrel: his head filled with stories he cannot understand and a cross of ash on his forehead.


Or that other boy, portrayed by Abir Abdullh, finding a bowl of holy milk being poured into his mouth. They look as surprised as I feel watching these rituals that are strange to me. What is this photo about? Why is that mother pressing her son's face into a stone?


It is important to read the stories that go with the photos. The one of what appears to be a wonderfully warm scene, for example, of a father who has just dug up a skull with his two young children. Every fifteen years, unclaimed graves in Thailand are emptied, and all of the inhabitants help. The bones of the forgotten dead are cleaned and re-buried. Irrespective of their origin, status or faith: everyone all mixed up together.