‘Families of Abraham’ Gather in Exhibition

BY Jason M. Breslow  February 25, 2010 at 3:23 PM EDT

Soon after 9/11, photographer Eleanor Brawley came to the realization that she had a lot to learn about her neighbors in Charlotte, N.C., who come from different religious traditions. She attended seminars at her church and consulted religious leaders and scholars. And with a new understanding, Brawley recruited seven fellow documentary photographers from around the country to capture the day-to-day lives of 11 families from three faiths to shed light on how much this seemingly diverse group shares.

“Nearly half of humanity are either Jews, Christians or Muslims, and all trace their roots back to the same ancestor, Abraham. It was felt if we could understand each other better, perhaps the world would be a safer place,” said Brawley.

The black and white portraits depict celebrations for weddings, births and religious holidays like Yom Kippur, Easter and Ramadan. In close-ups of children’s faces and candid moments at home, the photographs reveal slim differences between the families.

“The Families of Abraham exhibit grows from the realization that our families of faith are related. We are next of kin among the religious communities of humankind,” writes Diana Eck, director of the Harvard University Pluralism Project, in an introduction to the exhibit.

In an interview with WUNC radio, John Daughtry, one of the photographers, notes, “The contrast of religious experiences between the photographer and family provided an opening that was very productive.”

“Families of Abraham” has been shown at seven locations, most recently at the chapel at Duke University. It started out at Charlotte’s Levine Museum and has since been exhibited at the International Islamic Museum of America in Atlanta, UNC-Chapel Hill, Meredith College in Raleigh and Edgewood College in Madison, Wisc. There’s also an accompanying book and documentary that was made for public television.

In addition to photography, Brawley has produced documentaries for PBS and is a poet. The other photographers in the show are Byron Baldwin, Donna Bise, John Daughtry, Donna Foster, Chris Keane, Tina Manley, Nancy Pierce, Judy Simpson Cook, Linda deCastrique and Linda Newcomb.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that the exhibition would travel to the University of Wisconsin.