Photographer Mary Lou Uttermohlen is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. These images are from her project ‘Spiritual Yaya‘. To see Mary Lou’s gallery of projects, series and photographs click on any image.
Spiritual YaYa offers a peek behind the veil shrouding the spiritual communities of New Orleans. The series visits a variety of spiritual groups that intermingle here like the ingredients in a pot of gumbo. It explores mainstream spiritual customs like Mari Gras, St. Joseph’s Day, All Saints Days and Christmas Eve Bonfires but then it digs deeper into small private communities.
The word YAYA in the title comes from the language of the slaves brought against their will to work on plantations. The word originated from the Yoruban tribe in Africa and it means divine. Today the word describes aging southern women and is spoken as a sign of endearment. Like the word YAYA, culture has a way of getting transformed in Louisiana. People cherish their beliefs and resist change yet over time customs morph together. What once belong to someone else becomes ours. It is this intermingling of traditions that creates the soul of New Orleans today.
While the city remains predominately Catholic, many religions have a home here. Some preach that New Orleans is a portal where the veil between the realms it easier to cross. Tourists, evangelicals, energy workers, psychics, healers and ghost hunters arrive like pilgrims in anticipation of a supernatural adventure.
Photographing this broad topic requires weaving in and out of small communities with the manners of a humble guest. It is a gift to be allowed to document sacred moments. People worship for their own personal connection with the divine and have no desire being photographed in these private moments. Creating this series is a sensitive undertaking requiring patience, grace, diplomacy and respect.
Everyone appreciates being able to worship freely and without judgment. One thing learned through the esoteric journey is that the religious freedom promised by our constitution is a right that people of Louisiana hold dear to their heart. It is also fair to conclude that New Orleanian’s literally enjoy dancing to the beat of their own drums!