This is my introduction to the new book
Acts Of Faith: Spirituality Gestures And Celebrations
This gallery of images is the end result of a twenty-year-long project that has led to the publication of six books and several photograph exhibitions. You won’t find captions describing where or when the photos were taken or the particular religion featured. This long period of research has reinforced my conviction that faith, both individual and collective, meets a need shared by all humanity. The precepts, rituals and prayers differ but the deep roots they share reveal more similarities than differences. If we want to find meaning in the chaos, we might start with individual prayer, where the most profound spirituality seeks answers and consolation, and culminate in collective celebrations, where belief becomes a symbol, an event or a sharing of values. It is these similarities between the faiths, manifested in the similar gestures used across different religions, that led me to explore different beliefs, places and symbols.
I am not a believer. In the sense that I don’t follow any particular religion. It is true I had a Catholic education, like most Italian kids, but I was brought up under the socialist ideology that described institutionalised, structured religion as “the opium of the people”. It is without doubt the most powerful instrument of social control, but it is also undeniable that the ideologies of the last century have rapidly fallen into the same ideological vortex, with symbols, prophets and collective celebrations that diverge little from the most conservative liturgies.
I have the greatest respect for individual spirituality, including my own, shaky though it is, and for the search for communion with that dimension whose boundaries cannot be defined. My criticism is reserved for those religious institutions that seek to expand their influence into politics and economics, at times by simply making strong statements, at others even trying to supplant them. Precious little is left of Prince Siddhartha’s renunciation of wealth in contemporary Sanghas. And even less of the teachings of Christ in the elaborate celebrations held in his name, often staged in sumptuous constructions that would make any “merchant in the temple” go pale. Even more extreme radicalisation is applied to the ethical austerity that Muhammad recorded in the Quran, inspired by the simplicity of life in the desert.
These are controversial considerations, easy to dress in superficiality, for hiding an evolution that over millennia has profoundly altered the original doctrines. What has not changed, and what still fascinates me, is the sincerity of a person kneeling before the indefinable, whether that be a symbol, a place or a landscape, in search of himself.