A young man named Cario sits at the end of a church pew, one leg crossed under the other with a bible in his lap. He has brought his hands together and placed them atop his forehead, situated in prayer. The sun’s rays cascade through the window above him and bathe him in light, crowning his head with a pseudo halo. The date is September 30, 2012.
This image is one of a series titled Be Still by photographer Kristin Bedford. Bedford was born and raised in Washington, DC prior to earning a B.A. degree in Religion with an emphasis on American religious Traditions from George Washington University. She later received an M.F.A in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University before relocating to Los Angeles.
Bedford’s series Be Still explores the quietly reflective aspects of faith. The series is replete with images of worshipers in “moments of devotional solitude”; like the aforementioned Cario, or Jashua, another young man sitting at the end of a pew with his arms tucked inside of his brown, white and green-striped shirt cupping his face with his left hand. Bedford first attended the humble Apostolic Deliverance Rebirth Outreach Ministries in July of 2012. The congregation was led by a young Pastor named Lonne Dubois and had recently established their church in a small storefront in Durham, North Carolina.
After receiving permission to photograph during services, each running approximately four to five hours, Bedford initially struggled with the best technique to record the worship. First, she decided to shoot in digital color instead of black and white film because she felt that black and white images would be, “arrested in time” and she, “couldn’t have a modern conversation” about the topic. Second, she had to “give into the light of the building”, because she was unwilling to incorporate flash photography out of respect to worshipers. With these two technical decisions, Bedford contrasts Milton Rogovin’s pioneering 1958 to 1961 Storefront Church photo series.
Yet there is a third, more striking contrast between the two photographers’ depiction of grassroots religious groups. Milton Rogovin’s images tend to portray the churchgoers with arms raised up, heads thrown back and in the midst of delirious excitement, or what W.E.B. Du Bois described as “the Frenzy”. Bedford on the other hand focused more on the “contemplative silence” she witnessed. Even with the small number of Bedford’s images that do show arms raised or heads tossed back, there is introspection that differs from Rogovin’s fervor. This introspection may also be due to the personality of the church’s Pastor Dubois who once preached, “God wants us to stand still. If we are still, the opening will appear, and the devil will be taken out the back door.”
Bedford’s astute observations are the results of her willingness to wait. She consciously chose to sit on the floor while patiently anticipating her decisive moment to arrive. Kristin Bedford’s readiness to be still has allowed her to capture the gentle gestures of the Apostolic Deliverance Rebirth Outreach Ministries faithful and to demonstrate her respect for her collaborating subjects.