Thursday, January 17, 2008

Sacred cows pt. 3 or Why I love photography

When light is used to paint, draw or record it's called photography. From its Greek root words "photo" and "graph" it means "light-writing or light-drawing." There is a visual language being spoken. With the popularity and affordability of digital cameras, photography has exploded into an everyman's pastime. But it retains a mystery, a magical nature and a sacredness. Making images with light sounds magical enough, but image capture is only part of the process. The captured image must be rendered visible and made permanent. Working digitally, results can be immediate with the ability to scroll back through shots just taken. Downloading to computer memory archives efforts and can even note technical information about how the shot was made. There is no middle man or middle step. The process traditionally, however, has consisted of development, and printing. It uses chemical baths to convert silver salts into metallic silver, which blocks light and forms the negative image in black and white photography. (More layers of chemicals and a third step to remove the silver in color development.) The negative is used to create a positive print by projection or contact. There is a physical/spiritual miracle that happens for me each time I see an image developing in the print tray under the dim red darkroom light. I can't think of a time when I haven't felt excitement or bubbling anticipation for what was being born. The element of surprise is common. What will an image actually look like? What will it say about the subject? What association or response will it call up in the viewer? So many factors work together to create a perfect print. It's a subjective series of events starting with the eye of the photographer and light falling on a subject, coupled with timing, composition and perhaps intent. Photography by nature abstracts. Only so much information can be included in a single frame. Still it can tell a story, isolate beauty, and be a gateway to larger realities. It can inform and persuade, catalyzing awareness of issues and situations. It can bring tears of joy, grief, or sadness and move people to action.

I love photography. It involves an act of creation. Through it people can notice things. Really notice, and experience a heightened awareness akin to what being present to the moment brings. I don't necessarily love cameras. They are tools to capture or house an image in the interim between exposure and final image or print. The quality of gear may make certain types of excellence (technically) more possible, but focal length, f-stops, skyrocketing megapixels and fancy cameras are not photography. They serve it. They are the paper, ink and font. They are not reading. Some purists think cameras are sort of holy and they themselves become a little more important because they "drive" a Nikon (for example.) Hmm, reminds me of Mac owners...but back to cameras. No matter how ultra cool or in some sense beautiful the camera itself is, it's the beauty of the result that counts. Cameras can sometimes get in the way of photography because the focus (no pun intended) is shifted from the study of the quality of light, the contrast of lights and darks, compositional relationships, points of view, symbolism, and message to something else. Something like a sacred cow.

A little visual example: This is the camera I am currently using. 10 MP and 5x optical zoom. Impressed? Don't be. It's little and pretty cheap. I have stickers all over it. It is not holy. It does serve my photographic pursuits related to documenting things and can pull off some pretty arty shots as well. If I can one day afford an expensive digital SLR with several lenses and lots of accessories, I still don't want it to be holy. I want it to be about the beauty of the result. And to me photography, when you zoom out, is about seeing, both with the inner and outer eye. It's about something bigger than what's involved in the process.

Sacred cows, however comfy, neat, special and important to their owners and practitioners, kind of distort and detract from the real subject. Is it about cameras or is it about photography? Likewise, I can see the correlation to kingdom principles. Is it about the good news of God's love through Jesus, or is it about the kind of show we put on or the version of the Bible we use? Is it about responding with our whole life and lifestyle or is it about what people think of us? What is the beauty of the result? Do we love? Are we kind? Are people connected with God? Are lives changed?

I want to think more about the act of creation that is happening when we gather together with God and each other, and how that can and does continue when we scatter to each of our homes, workplaces, and communities and how it becomes a piece of the bigger, zoomed-out picture of the kingdom.


Blogger Susan said...

I'd be happy to just figure out how creations works. How it feels when it's happening and I'm involved.

I forgot.

8:09 PM  
Blogger Jennifer said...

This would be a great discussion for our dinner next week! I imagine you would have some wonderful examples from family, the Russian orphanage and adoption process, your discipleship journey, etc. I might, at that time, also recall your stepping out to speak wisdom (beyond yourself) at the right moment, offering to fix food or meet a need, or praying for people. I see God moving and creating during these times.

Maybe it's too cliche', but I believe that when we meet together with God, what happens is greater than the sum of the parts, and more than what we could do or be alone. He is always creating life out of non-life and letting us experience grace and mercy and insight in big surprising ways or small subtle ways, touching our heart and transforming it bit by bit. What happens in you affects me, and affects that person behind the counter in the coffee shop or in the post office, etc.

11:37 PM  

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