July 13, 2014
Philip Montgomery calls his photographs of New York City’s various Islamic communities an unfinished project, one driven by changing perspectives and questions. He began in 2009 as a new arrival from California and fresh from photographing Sufi Muslims in Kashmir. In an unfamiliar city, Mr. Montgomery, now 26, said he felt a yearning to “work my way back to the kind of connected communities I saw in Kashmir.”
What he found in New York was an incredible diversity of cultures and practices: West Africans in Harlem; Indonesians in Jamaica, Queens; Palestinians in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; large and small congregations from all over the Islamic world.
“They were all keeping the traditions of where the individuals came from,” Mr. Montgomery said. “These are Americans, but this is their connection to home. I was looking at people bound together by faith but also by the city they lived in.”
After a break, Mr. Montgomery returned to the mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, which this year is June 28 to July 28. In 2009, many of the Muslims he encountered were still navigating the anti-Islamic sentiments that arose after the Sept. 11 attack. This year, the world event moving many of the congregants has been the increasingly bloody conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank.
But he was struck by the scenes of unity, as at a mosque on West 29th Street, across from the hipsterish Ace Hotel. “You had creative directors grabbing coffee at Stumptown or pork-heavy food at the Breslin, and then you had cabdrivers praying in the street, breaking the fast,” he said. “I talked to Ghanaians, Yemenis, people from Mali, Palestinians and Americans, people from all over the world in a random spot in Manhattan. It was really a New York cross-pollination.”