Photographer Robert Gerhardt debuted his Muslim/American, American/Muslim series during Final Friday last month at the Dodge City Library and the exhibit will be on display through November.
"I first got into photography my second semester of my junior year in college so around 1998," said Gerhardt. "I was studying anthropology at the time, and my advisor recommended we take a photography course so that we would know how to take a decent photo when we were doing field work.
"The instructor, named Harold Feinstein, started showing us his portfolio the first day of class, and I was hooked and never looked back."
That drive led to the creation of the Muslim/American, American/Muslim series that started in 2010.
"The Muslim American Society, a national group, was in the planning stages to convert an unused convent on State Island in New York City to a Mosque and community center," Gerhardt said.
"The people on State Island were not pleased by this, and the contentious meetings about the project were covered in the local news, and I was following it and I realized that most, if not all, of the people protesting this proposed Mosque had never been inside one, or knew what actually went on in one.
"And at the time I didn't either. The only Muslims I knew were the cab drivers in NYC and the guys I would get my morning coffee from on the way to work.
"So I wrote to MAS, and they introduced me to a Mosque in Brooklyn, who in tern gave me permission to spend a year photographing their Mosque and community.
"And so I began photographing on the first night of Ramadan in August of 2010 and the project went on from there, and it still goes on now.
"I continue to make photographs for the series."
Gerhardt wanted to document the lives of the Muslim American communities around their Mosques to be able to give insight as to what the life of a Muslim American is like.
"Many people have never been inside a Mosque, so I wanted to show what they are like," he said. "I also wanted to show the diversity of not just the Mosques, but the communities them selves.
"Muslim American's have much more in common with everyone else than I think most people realize.
"Yes, they pray five times a day, and some of their customs are different, but they are all just trying to live their lives like everyone else.
"The parents go to work and take care of the house and bills. The kids go to school, play basketball with their friends in the park, go to the movies, and do all the things other kids do.
"But I also know that my photographs themselves are not going to lead to any viewer's great epiphany, and everything will be fine after that.
"My goal is to get people to look and think about what they see. If the photographs lead people to ask questions, and think, then I feel they have done either job.
"One other thing about me since it gets asked a lot, I am not a Muslim.
"I was born and raised as a Roman Catholic, was taught by nuns in grade school, and then went to a Jesuit, all-male high school in Philadelphia (St. Joseph's Prep) and then The College of the Holy Cross (also run by Jesuits).
"The Jesuits are the same group that the current Pope is. They instilled in my classmates and myself the idea of being 'a man for others' and help the world around you.
"This principal is what drives my photography work."
Gerhardt also spent 3 and a half weeks in Pakistan in 2016, taking photos of the daily life of Muslims outside of the US.
To see more of Gerhardt's work, along with visiting the library, visit www.RobertGerhardt.com.
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