Religious rituals in America are not often public spectacles. A key exception was the tradition of river baptisms that flourished in the South and Midwest between 1880 and 1930. These outdoor communal rites were public displays of faith, practiced by thousands of Protestants, and witnessed by whole communities. A combination of economic depression and industrialization spurred religious fundamentalism in rural areas, and media-savvy preachers promoted mass revivals and encouraged a dialogue about religion in popular culture and media. Photographs of river baptisms were often disseminated as postcards, both by worshippers documenting their personal life-affirming experiences and by tourists noting exotic practices and vanishing folk traditions. This small exhibition of vintage postcards and a panorama is drawn from a unique archive of vernacular river baptism photographs in the collection of the International Center of Photography. This exhibition is organized by Erin Barnett, ICP Assistant Curator of Collections.
Take Me to the Water
Photographs of River Baptisms
This exhibition was made possible with public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council.