Faith, food, color-blind equality: A photographer turns her lens on a dwindling 20th century religious movement

Bedford_09.KCRW Blog
Photos: Kristin Bedford

Devotees of the early twentieth century spiritual leader known as Father Divine don’t go to church. They practice what they believe by living together, communally, and preparing an enormous banquet each day. During their feast, they listen to tapes of the man they called God, who died back in 1965 and who at one time had tens of thousands of followers.

Besides his claim of divinity, the man known as Father Divine was a radical in another way, particularly for an African-American whose height of fame was in Harlem in the 1930s: He believed in racial harmony. “They don’t say ‘black’ or ‘white,’ they say ‘dark complected’ and ‘light complected,'” said Los Angeles-based photographer Kristin Bedford.

After attending one of the so-called Holy Communion Banquets several years ago, Bedford found herself invited to live with the group for five weeks, organizing Father Divine’s photo archives and documenting their day-to-day activities. Only 18 followers remain, all senior citizens, given the religion’s core belief of celibacy, and they dwell together on a spectacular estate outside Philadelphia.

Bedford_01.KCRW Blog

“It’s very rare when you’re photographing faith to have a literal manifestation of an act of belief,” Bedford told us when she paid a visit to KCRW. “For Father Divine, that integrated daily activity was the realization of his truth.”

Bedford will show photos of her time with the followers of Father Divine at a talk she’ll give this coming Sunday. Details are below.

Bedford_07.KCRW Blog

l_father-divine_600x400
The man who called himself Father Divine

Kristin Bedford talks about Father Divine Sunday, May 31st at LAVA’s Sunday Salon/Library Bar, 630 W. 6th Street, DTLA. To register, click here.   

To learn more about Woodmont outside Philadelphia, click here.

 

Comments

  1. Mel
    Jul 16, 2015, 6:16 am

    How wonderful to learn more about our amazing and diverse fellow Americans through this fascinating body of work. Our society needs more exposure to different people, lifestyles, and faiths because it enhances our tolerance, wisdom, and general understanding of the world we live in. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discover this community. Thank you!

  2. Barbara Lily
    Jul 14, 2015, 3:36 pm

    Kristin Bedford's photographs are a grace-filled representation of this community of faith. Her ability to convey the dignity and serenity of a life of such profound devotion is extraordinary. When I look at her work, It's as if the world stops spinning as I rest in the beauty of the images.

  • joshksky

    Thanks for giving space to this beautiful series. I grew up outside Philadelphia but never knew about this unique chapter in American spirituality. Very glad that this group let Bedford into their world.

  • Marie Cecilia

    What a fascinating piece! This gives real insight into a nearly forgotten community. Thanks for shining a light with a deft and gentle hand on these followers.

  • Pcuad

    What a wonderful story and photographs from Kristin Bedford showcasing history and faith here. Bedford was sensitive and insightful and I learned a lot about an amazing group of people.

  • philjw

    These are beautiful and rare views into something that this photographer has shown to all of us.

  • Lee Conger

    Learning about Father Divine and this remarkable community through Ms Bedford’s respectful, care-infused lens has touched me in meaningful ways. I very much look forward to her presentation here in L.A. tomorrow afternoon. Thanks, WWLA, for doing this piece!

  • AlexM

    I found these images to be fascinating and insightful, and also great to consider in the context of Ms. Bedfords’ larger body of work- all of the same quality and with the same care and compassion toward her subjects.

  • John Wingler ’69

    Thank you to KCRW for tipping us off about this marvelous work and the story behind. Bedford’s photos and discussion yesterday provided an invaluable insight into a faith group that should be known to all as part of our American heritage. Her sensitivity to the faith and life of the remaining Followers allowed outsiders to get a glimpse of how significant this movement truly was. A really beautiful and authentic tribute to the believers and its founders.

  • Pingback: MFA|EDA Student & Alumni News – Summer Playlist | MFA|EDA Viewfinder()

  • uffda51

    Beautiful images. Thanks to KCRW for bringing this story to light.

  • P. Weicker

    Thanks to KCRW and to Kristin Bedford for this insightful and sensitive look into a unique piece of contemporary American history. The images are as unique and compelling as the story itself. May we all approach faith and tradition with this level of curiosity, compassion and interest.

  • cdndmf

    Generally, a display of an artist’s work by the artist
    provides insight into the inner working’s of that artist’s mind, to the
    complement of a collection of work that – it is hoped – will be good enough to
    be worth looking at and trying to understand. Ms. Bedford’s photography is
    disarmingly casual, but it is at the same time intimate and layered.
    Photography is the capturing of a the transient moment and holding it forever,
    and in the photographs presented at this discussion by this artist, I was
    provided with glimpses into a vanishing, hopeful, simple world, and that
    experience re-taught me some basic human values. That is no small feat. I am
    very grateful to have been able to be a part of this discussion, and to have
    been exposed to this beautiful and important work.

  • Lori Antoinette W

    Thank you, Kristen. I really enjoyed your insightful presentation with the beautiful picture documentation about this once formidable group. It was very enlightening to see and hear firsthand your experiences with this all but lost piece of American history. I really look forward to your next project, which I know will be just as insightful as this one.

  • Barbara Lily

    Kristin Bedford’s photographs are a grace-filled representation of this community of faith. Her ability to convey the dignity and serenity of a life of such profound devotion is extraordinary. When I look at her work, It’s as if the world stops spinning as I rest in the beauty of the images.

  • Mel

    How wonderful to learn more about our amazing and diverse fellow Americans through this fascinating body of work. Our society needs more exposure to different people, lifestyles, and faiths because it enhances our tolerance, wisdom, and general understanding of the world we live in. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to discover this community. Thank you!