The Searchers (2006)
in collaboration with Jessica Sucher
The photographs in The Searchers look at various aspects of Western spiritual tourism in India. India has long had a vast, loosely organized industry in spiritual training made up of utopian communities, yoga centers, meditation retreats, gurus both Indian and Western, and a massive circuit of festivals, pilgrimage sites and places of worship. This landscape of spiritual (and social) possibility, along with exotic surroundings and low costs draws large numbers of Western seekers who come for a week or a lifetime.
Believing that no one stylistic approach could accommodate this multi-layered phenomenon, The Searchers consists of several distinct series that use various photographic approaches and the photographs is this exhibition are a selection of the larger body of work. The works in The Searchers/ Part 1 consist of landscape photographs and portraits made in and around the spiritual centers that cater specifically to Westerners. The portraits in The Searchers/ Part 2 are of Westerners who have taken ascetic vows in one of India’s religious traditions. These believers have considerably transformed their lives, and inhabit India no longer as visitors, but as converts to a religion, culture, and way of life.
The presence of these spiritual tourists and converts, as well as the communities that they form, is complicated by the same tensions and hierarchies that reflect the larger dynamic between the first and third worlds. Although the goals of spiritual practice deal with personal growth and the transcendence of social, racial and economic differences, these utopian spiritual communities cannot escape being a microcosm of the post-colonial condition.