In his series In God We Trust, the photographer Cyril Abad explores eccentric religious practices in the United States. This funny and poignant collection is a breath of fresh air in the festival devoted for the most part to topical issues.
The opening lines of the text accompanying the exhibition already remind us that, in the last election, “Donald Trump registered 80% of the white evangelical vote.” In the Bible Belt, away from large cities and centers of intelligentsia, religion is as central as it is diverse. While most Americans identify themselves as Christian, there are many denominations with no traditional ties and which try to outdo one another in originality in order to attract followers. As he visited various religious communities, Cyril Abad encountered believers unlike any others.
A nomadic pastor
“Thank you for not clothing”: the message in the first image in the exhibition is crystal clear. In a tiny community two hours outside Richmond, VA, the congregation celebrates the word of God in their birthday suits.
There are numerous pastors who have demonstrated great ingenuity in assembling a flock at an age when temples stand empty. To deal with this trend, the Disciples of Christ in Florida have been gathering for sixty-three years at an old drive-in movie theater. The place of the screen is now occupied by a pastor and an oversize loaf of bread that can seen by the parishioners comfortably seated in their air-conditioned cars.
To keep up with the times, churches must also stay mobile. A former professional cyclist got the message and now bikes across Maryland on his neon-lit “Cross-Bike” in order, as he says, to preach the good news to students on spring break partying in Ocean City or to remote congregations like the nomadic pastor who officiates out of a mobile chapel.
Watching the Passion of Christ or strolling through Noah’s Ark is made possible thanks to Bible-themed amusement parks which have sprung up around the United States. “The Protestant Church has developed and innovated, adopting free-market principles,” notes the photographer as he frames a crowd contemplating Christ’s crucifixion at the foot of a cardboard hill or a group gazing at the monumental Noah’s Ark, a temple to creationism. Conferring celebrity status on the Bible may draw crowds but it also raises concerns among organizations promoting children’s welfare, which regularly challenge the creationist park. In the meantime, the faithful are pouring in and proudly pose before Cyril Abad’s camera next to a handpicked Jesus with studied gestures.
By Coline Olsina
Cyril Abad, "In God We Trust"
August 31 - September 15, 2019
Couvent des Minimes, 12 Rue Louis Bausil, 66000 Perpignan