Guernica Magazine

Jonas Bendiksen: Among the Messiahs

Around the world, men claim to be the Second Coming of Christ. The photographer recounts the years he spent documenting—and befriending—six of them. The post Jonas Bendiksen: Among the Messiahs appeared first on Guernica.
In the compound chapel, disciples shut the curtains in front of INRI Cristo after he has delivered the sermon of the day. Brazil, 2014. Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen; from The Last Testament (Aperture, 2017).

If you had asked photographer Jonas Bendiksen four years ago if he ever thought he would meet Jesus, he might have given you a quizzical look. The award-winning  documentarian from Norway is a self-described “skeptic,” known for his ethereal images of abandoned technology in Central Asia in Satellites (Aperture, 2006), and his epic visual exploration of people and homes around the world in The Places We Live (Aperture, 2008). The premise of his new project is a departure from the secular: Bendiksen embeds himself in the lives and communities of men who claim to be the Second Coming of Christ. That’s right—men, plural: Bendiksen encounters six of these modern day Jesuses.

They are worth introducing here: Inri Christo, from Brazil, had his first awakening as Christ in 1979. Jesus of Kitwe, Zambia, was twenty-four when he received his revelation, and it turned his life upside down. Former M15 agent and whistleblower David Shayler has been fighting the forces of evil as Jesus in northeast England since 2007. Jesus Matayoshi has his own political party in Japan, which bases its policies on Matayoshi’s identity as Christ reborn. Moses Hlongwane, the Messiah of South Africa, has about thirty disciples. Vissarion, the Christ of Siberia, had his first revelations as the Soviet Union was unraveling around him, and his Church of the Latest Testament has attracted hundreds of followers since the 1990s. Bendiksen spent three years following each of these Messiahs and their communities—and emerged with intimate portraits of people of abiding faith.

Cap of Moses Hlongwane, the Jesus of South Africa. South Africa, 2016. Photograph by Jonas Bendiksen; from The Last Testament (Aperture, 2017).

Bendiksen compiled his images, the writings of the six Jesuses, and narratives of his own experience into a 400-plus-page book called The Last Testament (Aperture, 2017). Though it would be easy to approach this material with tongue planted in cheek, the resulting work is not an exposé or a parody: Bendiksen takes each of his subject’s claims at face value, and approaches them with generosity. It is designed to be as immersive an experience as Bendiksen’s own in getting to know his six subjects. I was curious about every aspect of this project: Where do you find six people who claim to be Jesus? How do you approach them and their disciples? How do they approach you? And most of all, how does someone who grew up in what he calls a “godless” home end up in a years-long

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