By Ruby Russell
A photography exhibition taking place this month at a historic monastery near the German city of Nuremburg takes visitors on a journey through the intimate spaces where the country’s many faiths are practiced.
Regina Maria Suchy, the photographer responsible for the images, collaborated with Franciscan priest Cornelius Bohl, who provided explanatory texts. “The need for religious practice seemed to us, despite the differences between religions, to be something unifying,” Suchy said in an interview.
Entitled “Religion Next Door,” the project has been published as a book and has toured Germany as an exhibition. The photographs reveal rituals of prayer, meditation and devotion in Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist and Hindu communities. They were shot in Suchy’s hometown of Nuremburg, where close to 40 percent of the population are of immigrant background. But the authors stress that such scenes could have been documented in almost any German city.
Some of the color photos devoted to religion on the artist’s website are bathed in somber hues. One depicts a group of three people sitting in a lotus position around a group of candles, as if they were huddled around a campfire outdoors. They could be of any faith, but a small icon on a shelf in the background provides a hint they are Christians.
Many of the photos depict ceremonies in progress, while others focus on the private side of worship, with people praying or listening to a speaker in a small room. Several present slightly ambiguous scenes: What occasion prompted a group of people holding hands to dance around a sculpture in a church? And what is the Buddhist monk, sitting cross-legged but relaxed, thinking as he looks away from the camera?
“In our multicultural and multi-religious society, members of different faiths live together more closely than perhaps ever before in history,” said Bohl in an interview. “Another religion is always just next door–in the same street, in the same house, at the same workplace, or the same kindergarten. And yet often we don’t know each other, or only very superficially.”
Suchy, a Catholic, approached different religious groups with the intention getting to know them better. The first step was to meet without the camera to ask and respond to questions, a process that she says was in itself extremely rewarding.
The project is now showing at a Salesian-run educational center attached to Ensdorf Abbey in Bavaria, and accompanied by a program of seminars, interfaith discussions and school visits. Suchy and Bohl hope that it will encourage people of all faiths to appreciate the diversity of spiritual life in Germany and reconsider the richness of their own religious traditions.
“With these images we wanted to show the lived experience of religion, the life skills and deep sense of fulfillment that grows out of a genuine and healthy spirituality,” said Bohl. “We also wanted to invite interreligious dialogue as a path to mutual respect and understanding.”