Arts feature: 'Diversity is Our Strength'

Jim Fischer
Columbus Alive
Meskel ceremony at the St. Michael Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church

A Latino Catholic procession spills over into a Somali wedding and bumps up against a cowboy-themed church service, which gives way to an Asatru (heathen) gathering and a Serbian Orthodox celebration.

Lauren Pond's photography exhibition “Diversity is Our Strength” captures some of the scope and variety of faith communities that exist, often in close proximity, in Ohio, and particularly in Central Ohio. The gallery space at the Martin de Porres Center, where the exhibition will be on view through May 11 (an opening reception will be held from 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18), places Pond's images portraying these diverse faith traditions in relation to each other, in hopes of building understanding and acceptance among these faith communities.

“When I first started photographing I considered myself a traditional photojournalist, but now I think of myself more as a visual ethnographer,” Pond said in an interview at the Martin de Porres Center. “I will just find out about these communities and do my own research and reach out. The communities that I gravitate toward tend to be those that are misunderstood, stereotyped or marginalized. I'm most interested in portraying them in a more human, relatable way.”

And so an image of two young Mennonite women relaxing on a trampoline dwells near a young Somali woman with a get-out-the-vote sticker and a priest at an Ethiopian Orthodox festival shooting video with his phone.

“I was raised Presbyterian, technically, but we never really went to church,” Pond said. “I guess I fall into that spiritual-non-religious category — I don't really know what I am. Because I don't come from a religious background, I think I'm just curious about what other people believe and why. And also on a more psychological level … I'm an only child and fairly introverted, and one thing religion seems to provide across traditions is a sense of community and belonging, and I think through photography I'm able to capture a little of that.”

While some images do depict ceremonies or worship services, Pond said she is more interested in the personal aspect of faith as it relates to the individual and their community at large.

“When you think of religion, what you think of are the more formal settings and worship services. Not that those aren't important – of course they are – but I like to provide more of a cultural context,” Pond said. “I'm more interested in where the personal and the religious intersect. Ultimately, by getting past the formal differences of the various belief systems, you're able to relate to people better, to find ways to connect.”

And thus an interdenominational Blessing of the Animals and a counter-protest by three “angels” of the Westboro Baptist Church and a portrait of a Native American dancer can be seen in the same space. And while they may not immediately have anything to say to each other, the images, both individually and collectively, offer something to the viewer.

“These are people within your community that you might encounter on a day-to-day basis,” Pond said. “While there are big questions about where religion comes from, I'm more interested in what is each person's belief and what does it mean to them and how our beliefs affect our lives.”

Martin de Porres Center

Reception 2-3:30 p.m. Sunday, March 18

2330 Airport Dr., Northeast Side