Religion Road: Liz Hingley’s Under Gods

Liz Hingley
Liz Hingley
A priest's daughter dresses in her father's cassock-alb, traditional priestly vestments.

For photographer Liz Hingley, one of the most familiar locales was also one of the most uncharted. The images in her series “Under Gods” capture cultures from all parts of the globe, many in various states of religious practice. In one, a Jainist woman prays while wearing a mask over her mouth, preventing her from inadvertently breathing any microbes or insects in, which would go against her religion’s non-violent beliefs. Another photograph shows three Catholic children, Polish immigrants, rehearsing carols. In another, a Hare Krishna trudges uphill, through the snow, to distribute books. Each photograph seemingly shows a different world, yet all of the images were shot along a single stretch of road in Birmingham, U.K.

Crammed along a two-mile stretch on Soho Road are more than 30 religious buildings in a city that is home to more than 90 different nationalities. Hingley grew up in Birmingham so she had personal knowledge of the religious diversity that existed in her hometown, which she was often reminded of whenever she returned. “I was going back to Birmingham and seeing this celebration among all this diversity and I thought that this was something that I wanted to look at,” Hingley, the daughter of two Anglican priests, told TIME.  And look she did, spending nearly two years capturing the practices and interactions of this multi-faith community. The result is the Under Gods: Stories From Soho Road series, which has been shown around the world and made into a book.

Though she was familiar with the area, having lived in Birmingham until she was 18, Hingley said she was caught off guard by the religious mélange the community held. “I had no idea that there were so many different religions and practices going on in just one street,” she said.

It was a lot to document. A day of shooting could start as early as 5 a.m. meeting Hare Krishnas who gathered to chant, before she’d attend a lunch at the Vietnamese Buddhist temple and then move on to the park with members of the Jesus Army, an evangelical Christian movement. “It was a very difficult project to finish [each evening] because you’re tired at the end of the day and you think, oh, I’ll just see what that building is,” said Hingley, who describes herself as “nosy.”

That nosiness clearly paid off, however, as she captured some wonderfully intimate moments. Several photographs show the ways in which the different cultures overlap in the small community, as their paths frequently intersected. One photograph shows a young Muslim girl, cloaked in Islamic dress, speaking over the fence in her backyard to her Jehovah witness neighbors. Another shows a Jain schoolgirl, sitting on the floor reading in front of an Indian sitar while beside her poses another girl, her neighbor, in white ruffled Holy Communion dress.

For all of the stark contrasts that appear in the work, there’s also a sense of ease to the images. Soho Road — which enfolds people of the Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Jain, Christian and Sikh faiths — appears as a cultural mosaic, with each set of traditions represented as a distinct part of the community’s whole. Hingley said that the work has inspired her to continue the series in Paris, where she’s just completed a show with Next Level projects, adding that she’s interested in the experiences of religion in the secular state. She’s also quick to point out that her series isn’t about dogmatic beliefs, but rather how beliefs pervade people’s lives. She claims that Stories From Soho Road was personal for her—a look at her own journey living in Birmingham.

“I don’t feel that it’s documenting religion or just that. I feel it’s about many things. Religion is definitely a part of your daily life. It’s everything,” she said. “I wanted to show what it gives people and the beauty it can bring to people’s lives.”

Liz Hingley is a photographer currently based in Paris. See more of her work here.

Megan Gibson is a Writer-Reporter at the London bureau of TIME. Find her on Twitter at @MeganJGibson

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