A Sabbath Prayer
To the Sanctuary
Those who choose to live outside the norm, especially those who follow a religious leader, captivate the public imagination. Seattle-based photographer Stan Raucher felt this draw when, after a photo workshop in Peru in 2013, he happened to end up traveling down the Amazon River by boat with several members of Los Israelitas, a small, evangelical sect in Peru who live along the riverbank. For his project The New Promised Land, Raucher made two trips to visit the community and plans to return next year. He spoke with me via email about the project, which I saw in Critical Mass 2013.
How did you hear of Los Israelitas?
“I was doing a workshop with Ernesto Bazan in Iquitos, Peru—a city with a population of 400,000 that is only reachable by air or a 2,000 mile trip up the Amazon. We (Bazan, another student, and I) decided to explore further afield, so we ventured by boat several hundred miles down-river to spend a few days in a remote town. While there, we met several Israelitas who had come to the local market from their community. One morning we hopped on a peque-peque (a small boat) with several Israelitas. We didn’t know exactly where the boat was headed, but it turned out that it was going to their community. We got to know them during the boat trip, asking about their community and their beliefs, and when we arrived, they welcomed us to visit and explore.”
The Brass Band
How did you first visit them, and did they welcome your presence and desire to photograph them?
“The first time we visited was on a weekday, and they invited us to photograph in the school, common dining room and around the village. They invited us to return the following day, which was a festival for the new moon. We would always ask permission to photograph, and we attempted to be as unobtrusive as possible. They then invited us to return several days later to visit some of their agricultural areas. At that time, I brought them some prints of the school children that I had taken on our first visit. They then invited us to visit for their Sabbath services later in the week. When we returned this year, they were delighted to see us and welcomed us as their hermanos (brothers).”
In the Dining Room
How large is their community, and do they attempt to recruit?
“Their community is several hundred people, and one of many communities of Israelitas scattered along the Amazon and its tributaries. There are tens of thousands of Israelitas living in Peru, Bolivia, Columbia, Brazil, Italy, Spain, and even the United States.”
“They did desire to convey the importance of their beliefs to us, but I wouldn’t exactly call it proselytizing. The group is an unusual mixture of old beliefs (men and women sitting on opposite sides of the congregation, animal sacrifices and burnt offerings) and new practices (in addition to the brass bands, their services are also accompanied electric guitars and organs, and the parent organization in Lima also has a website).”
What are some specific examples of how Cecil B. DeMille movies play a part?
“I found the reference to Ezequiel Gamonal’s, the founder of the group, fondness for Cecil B. DeMille movies in an online article in El Comercio, a Lima newspaper. It is undoubtedly due to their elaborate dress in biblical garb for celebrations on the Sabbath and other holidays.”
Work from the series will be on view through August 31, 2014, at Davis Orton Gallery in Hudson, New York.
Welcoming the Congregation
Woman in Prayer
Shaking of Tambourines
The Burnt Offering
Images © Stan Raucher 2014