/ 28 March 2024

Shooting straight for the soul

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Keep me where the light is: Andile Bhala says he aims to show that God is good through his collection of photos called Sunday People.
God Edition

I grew up knowing that Uthixo ukhona (God is there) and that I needed to go to church sometimes. I was always at church anyway because isiguqo (a ritual during which people are healed with spiritual power) would often be held at my house. 

I visited many different churches with my father in his search of belonging. I still believe he taught me how to pray, although some people believe you cannot teach a person how to pray. 

But I was raised by women and, within our family, there were no limitations on which church one could join. I come from a lineage of prayer warriors and that has informed my belief that God is good to everyone, as well as how I approach my photographic project Sunday People.

I lost my mother a few years back and I remember I was struggling to do things I knew how to do, like pray. It was at that point that I started questioning the idea of God. Does God even exist; is God good?

I keep seeking my mother’s voice in the women I photograph and I keep seeking God’s voice through their prayers and songs.

My camera is secondary — simply a tool to allow me to tell the story. Mostly what is important is sharing the experience of how good God has been to some and how others should be patient and wait for their time.

In Sunday People, I explore iLanga lomphefumulo (the sun of the soul), those who believe God is good, and through my lens, my perspective, I try to bring light. 

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Religion is about hope and gratitude. This series investigates the ideas of faith, resilience and hope. 

I remember vividly the time in 2017, when I was taking an image of a pastor praying. 

He was from Zimbabwe and the most beautiful thing about that scene I witnessed was he was praying for South Africa, for peace, African leaders and against xenophobia and war. And at that moment, I realised you don’t need to be in your own country to seek God.

I try to find myself in every project I work on — to engage and learn. 

The work in Sunday People is about those who still believe in waking up on a Sunday morning to follow the Lord’s teachings, provide for their families, gather with others like it says in their holy 

book: “Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in Heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:19-20)

In many churches, women are in the majority, but they are rarely in positions of power. Gender often shapes the religious meanings of space and materiality, so I believe women should be in some of those decision-making roles — it could help us have fewer fights in the world.

How did Sunday People come about? I was looking for something that wanted to be photographed. 

These photographs explore a part of you and me which we often neglect — our spirituality. Some believe, some don’t, and we need to hold space for those who do.

Andile Bhala is a photographer based in Soweto, Johannesburg.