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Shana Dressler shares photographs of the embodied divine from religious ceremonies and festivals around the world, as well as tips on how to shoot scenes like these.

I GRADUATED WITH A DEGREE in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from Vassar College, and also spent three years studying graduate-level comparative religion and anthropology at Columbia University, and photography at the International Center of Photography. I was fascinated by Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Far East, and my gut instinct told me that if I wanted to understand the cultures there, I should learn about the religions first.

I studied the Abrahamic religions, Buddhism, and Hinduism. In my anthropology classes I learned about the esoteric branches of these religions, and then was exposed to religions of the African diaspora, such as Santaria, Candomblé, and Vodun. I was fascinated by the vintage footage of masquerade dances, and by the old black and white photographs from photographers like Pierre Verger, and contemporary photographers like Phyllis Galembo. I was curious about these “embodied” experiences of the divine.

I began a photographic journey to document such experiences, where I’ve shot festivals and ceremonies as far afield as Brazil, India, and Papua New Guinea, as well as in the US.

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About The Author

Shana Dressler

For the last 20 years Shana Dressler has been documenting religious festivals and spiritual experiences around the globe in projects such as the multimedia Discovering Ganesh and the long-form photo essay The Spirit That Runs Through The Holy Tabernacle Church. She also heads up the Social Innovators Collective, an international network of emerging founders and professionals who work in the social enterprise and nonprofit sectors. You can contact Shana via email at shana[at] or follow her on Twitter: @shanadressler.

  • Gregory Hubbs

    Very fine and sensitive job with both the photographs and the explanations of your approach, Shana. As one who long studied comparative religion, the visual comparisons are illuminating, as are the uniquely powerful primordial matriarchal and patriarchal cultural elements.

  • Carlo Alcos

    Beautiful Shana. Fantastic tips.

  • Worthington

    May you continue to be lucky with your work!  Lovely photos.  I have traveled in Cuba studying Santeria.  Your Cuban photos brought back heartfelt memories. Thanks. 

  • EHA

    You take beautiful photographs!

  • Angela

    Beautiful pictures and great tips. I’m a huge fan of local festivals around the world, I try to attend every time I can. You might find interesting the festivals we have in Sardinia, especially the ones at the end of the winter to welcome the warm season, they all stem from our ancient pagan tradition, although they were incorporated by the Catholic Church, very colorful and steeped in hidden messages.

  • Green Global Travel

    Having several photographer friends, I know it’s sometimes hard to separate yourself from your subjects. Thank you for the article.

  • My Irie Time

    Your images are amazing.  I have always been hesitant to photograph people while they worship. I thought of worship as something between you and your God, a relationship into which I should not intrude.  Did you find resistance to your being there?  If you didn’t have a friend to essentially introduce you to the place, would you feel comfortable shooting there?  Thanks for the great piece.

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