A peek into the alternate reality that is Christian tourist attractions
The LA-based photographer Jamie Lee Curtis Taete was tasked with documenting a variety of Christian tourist attractions. What he saw was unexpected, surprising and once in a while, amazing.
- Jyni Ong
- 2 June 2021
Jamie Lee Curtis Taete is no stranger to Christian versions of pop culture. “I used to have a DVD player that would re-edit movies to remove all the stuff that might be offensive to Christian viewers,” he tells us. There are Christian superheroes, camps, haunted houses, there is even a Christian alternative to yoga. Basically, Christians have their own version of practically anything to do with modern convenience, and this series, that we’re here to talk about today, sees photographer Jamie capture the Christian tourism industry.
The series is a documentation of various Christian tourist attractions around the world, but mainly from the US, where Jamie is based. The project took him to theme parks, dinner theatres, museums and so on, and Jamie was commissioned by The Daily Beast to immerse himself in these places and capture the atmosphere. “I’ve always been interested in people who are building their own worlds or realities,” he says. “I think probably because I, personally, am not a huge fan of our current shared reality, and I like to see the ways people are trying to escape from it.”
Elsewhere in the LA-based photographer’s work, Jamie has covered QAnon adherents, LGBTQIA+ communes and cosplayers. And last year, we first met Jamie through a series of quarantine protests taken in LA; a very different kind of shared reality. In this way, Jamie is drawn to communities driven by very different impulses, and all in all, he adds, “I think that theme of wanting to create an alternate reality runs through it all.”
When photographing the various Christian tourist attractions, Jamie was faced with navigating a new community, post-pandemic. His first impressions with the community was that everyone, bar one attraction, was “incredibly nice” superficially. That being said, there was one attraction in Ark Encounter, Kentucky, which actively promoted homophobia and transphobia. He recalls, “they had a bunch of rainbow merch in their gift shops that was part of a campaign they’d launched to reclaim the rainbow from the LGBTQIA+ community, and they have a policy against hiring LGBTQIA+ people.” On the assignment, he saw posters promoting “embracing god’s design for sexuality” which was astutely recognised by the photographer as a “heavy conversion therapy vibe.” Jamie observes his experience in this way: “while everyone I interacted with was extremely pleasant to my face, some of them may have also been doing things that directly harm me, as a queer person.”
While the majority of his experiences were relatively non-confrontational, Jamie did find himself escorted off the grounds of a Christian TV studio and vacation resort in Missouri. A group of “fairly angry people” were convinced Jamie was working undercover as “some sort of nefarious journalistic mission” as their founder had recently been sued for selling fake COVID cures. In turn, Jamie was swiftly escorted off the property and told to delete the photo. These shaky experiences weren’t helped by the fact Jamie had to pay to enter some of the attractions, or alternatively, buy something at their cafe or gift shop.
Jamie’s photography experience wasn’t all bad however. He tells us about a particular highlight, watching the staging of a crucifixion of Christ performed on a giant set built into the hillside. The performance included over 100 actors, live animals, not to mention special effects like pyrotechnics and concealed wire rigs. An exciting spectacle (not to mention due to the fact it was Jamie’s first non-Netflix entertainment in nine months post-pandemic), he captures the excitement of the event through enigmatic and striking photography; reflecting the magnitude of the occasion through his lens.
Having visited a number of these attractions, it would seem the popularity and demand for the Christian touristic space is high. But surprisingly, considering how many Christians there are globally and how many attractions there are too, pretty much all of Jamie’s trips showed these spaces to be “totally deserted”. He adds: “A couple of times, I’ve been literally the only visitor.” While the 90s saw a peak in the “glory days of Christian tourism”, the attractions have become increasingly quiet over the years and gradually, more and more institutions have joined the lengthening list of Christian attractions that have shut up shop. Jamie even visited some places that are more reminiscent of “a bunch of signs about the Bible stuck to a themed wall”. The photographer puts this decrease in popularity down to the world getting less religious. “It seems unlikely that the industry is going to have any kind of big comeback,” he finally goes on to say. And with this is mind, we can appreciate Jamie’s series as a precious documentation of an alternate reality that might not be around for much longer.
GalleryCopyright © Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, 2021
Copyright © Jamie Lee Curtis Taete, 2021
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.