MaryLou Uttermohlen

Photographer
Spiritual YaYa
Location: New Orleans, LA
Nationality: American
Biography:           Mary Lou Uttermohlen is an editorial photographer based in New Orleans, La. She specializes in environmental portraits for commercial and editorial clients. She also has two personal projects :... read on

Spiritual YaYa offers a peek behind the veil shrouding the spiritual mysteries 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 rituals like Mari Gras, St. Joseph’s Day, All Saints Days and Christmas Eve Bonfires but then it digs deeper into small private spiritual communities.

The word YAYA in the title comes from the language of the slaves brought here to work on plantations. The word originated from the Yoruban tribe in Africa and it means divine. Today the word used as a sign of endearment for aging southern woman. 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 belonged to someone else becomes ours. It is this intermingling of traditions that creates the soul of New Orleans today. Another aspect that keeps the spirit of New Orleans vibrant is the strong sense of community. Families stay in neighborhoods and groups generation after generation.

Some preach that New Orleans is a portal where the veil between the realms is easier to cross. Tourists, evangelicals, energy workers, psychics, healers and ghost hunters arrive like pilgrims in anticipation of a supernatural adventure.

While the city remains predominately Catholic, many religions coexist and here. Yet the interest of this documentary is not what is here but what is unique and special about what happens here. To discover this means crossing out of any comfort zone one may have and venturing into the unknown to experience new things. Out there away from the beaten path are religions that existed well before Catholicism and a few that are blended with it since attempts to covert people failed.

Photographing this broad topic requires weaving in and out of 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 with no desire to be recorded in their private moments. Creating this series is a sensitive undertaking requiring patience, grace, diplomacy and respect.

Americans appreciate the constitutional right to worship freely and without judgment. It is clear to see that in New Orleans people take these rights quite seriously as they literally enjoy dancing to the beat of their own drums!

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