"Can all these photos we take be used to make a difference in this world?"
I love photography. The beauty, the history, the stories, I love everything about photography. I think we all can appreciate photography on some level. Did you know that 3.2 billion images are shared each day through various social media platforms? With that many photos, a thought comes to my mind, ‘can all these photos we take be used to make a difference in this world?’ As followers of Jesus we may frame this question more specifically as ‘can my photos help God heal a hurting world?’
Before we move forward with his idea, it is helpful to take a brief look at the positive difference photography has made throughout human history.
When photography first came to prominence in the 1800s, it was a very intentional process. The time it took to set up a photo and develop the picture was a big commitment and was an expensive process. For these reasons people chose to capture important events, people, and images that would be historically significant. You can find some examples by googling the national archives. Historical photos serve us today as a glimpse into the past, and the photos we take today will be a glimpse for people in the future.
"We were never intended to carry the burdens of the world alone."
Throughout the history of photography and photojournalism (the art of storytelling through photography), some images have brought radical transformation to various areas of culture and life. One of my favorite examples of this is the photographer Jacob Riis. Riis was among the first photographers in the US to use a flash to help light his subjects. He also began to photograph the slums in New York in the late 1800s in order to shed light on the poor living conditions. His photojournalism publication titled ‘How the Other Half Lives' was a catalyst for urban reform in American history. President Roosevelt called Riis, “the most useful citizen of New York” because of his work exposing the squalid living conditions of immigrants. Riis was passionate about his work and fearless in the way he fought for social reform.
Photojournalism can also take the photographer through some heavy situations. In 1993 Kevin Carter went to Sudan to photograph the terrible famine. His iconic photo of a hungry vulture next to a starving child brought the famine to widespread media attention and also won him a Nobel Prize. However, the heaviness of the famine and the other situations he captured throughout his career would end up being a contributing factor in him eventually deciding to take his own life.
While photography can be used to make a positive impact in the world, this example illustrates the truth: we were never intended to carry the burdens of the world alone (Matthew 11:28-30). As followers of Jesus we believe that God is the only one who can bring true healing, restoration, and perspective to our lives and in the many situations around the world that desperately need Him. Rather than becoming overwhelmed with what we encounter on our own, God actually promises to be with us as we bring healing to the hurting world. (Matt. 28:20).
"Changing the world through photography should NEVER be about making our own names known."
So how can we as followers of Jesus, lovers of photography, and people determined to partner with Him in everything we do begin a task of such epic proportions? Well, there are some things to note before we move forward:
First, we must realize that changing the world through photography should NEVER be about making our own names known or about sharing that ‘epic photo’ that’s going to go viral. As people who want to make God known, it should be about submitting to Him in our photography - as in all things (Prov. 3:5-6) - and making His heart, thoughts, and desires go viral. If we don’t have Jesus as the reason behind what we do, and as the primary lens we are looking through, we will never take photos that matter to God’s heart; the photos we capture will not bring the eternal transformation into society and cultures around the world that only He can bring.
Second, just as Joshua was instructed to be bold and courageous (Joshua 1:9), we must also be fearless in our pursuit of extending God’s kingdom on earth through photography. We have to be fearless in capturing the stories of this world that are on his heart. The tears and injustices as well as the laughter and joy. If we sit back in fear of what we might find or even in fear of reaching out to the people around us, their stories may never be heard. Their lives may not see the transformation possible in Christ and we may also miss out on the widespread transformation which Jesus-fueled photography can bring. God is calling us to the same fearless living Joshua was called to. As photographers in the army of the Lord, we must walk in this fearlessness before we can call others to the same fearless living!
"God has his own ideas about the individuals and people groups all over the world, and the pursuit of this revelation is a great starting point for us."
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So, practically speaking, what does it look like to partner with Jesus in bringing transformation through photography? One of the ways in which I believe we can do this is by documenting different cultures and showcasing their God-given beauty, showcasing who God has created them to be, not who they are seen to be or who they may misguidedly believe they are. Often we can tend to perceive a nation or an individual based on our own prejudices, with little or no personal experience. However God has his own ideas about the individuals and people groups all over the world, and the pursuit of this revelation is a great starting point for us.
If you take a look through the Bible at how cultures were transformed, there was always a prophetic voice at the forefront: one who was willing to stand up fearlessly and speak out on God’s behalf. There was Jonah, Moses, Deborah, and Samuel to name just a few. They were fearless, stood strong, and shared God’s heart for the people of the day.
According to Paul: “One who prophesies strengthens others, encourages them, and comforts them” (1 Cor. 14:3). If the prophetic is intended to strengthen, encourage, and comfort, couldn’t we use our photos and stories to do the same? As we capture and share photos and stories from God’s perspective, communicating what He thinks and feels about a person, place, or situation, are we not prophesying through photography?
Not only can the subjects be honored and built up, but the world watching can be edified and transformed for the better. We begin to promote a more accurate picture, a picture that is closer to what God thinks of those people and places. I believe through this act, in the power of God’s spirit, healing will come to this world.
This might sound like a whole bunch of crazy talk, but what if it’s true? It starts with you. It starts with fearless living, relentless pursuit of God’s heart, and looking past the stereotypes and negative media surrounding various people, groups, and situations. If we go fully after this dream, we will begin to see transformation. I’m ready for it... are you?
Here are a few steps to help you get started on taking photos that matter:
- First of all, connect with God’s heart and ask him who or what you should be photographing. Seek His perspective on the people and places you are going to photograph.
- Next, fearlessly walk toward the people and places God puts on your heart, seeking to honor God and the person/place through your photography.
- Vulnerability matters. People are more willing to open up and be honest, if we are willing to be open with them first. Do first, then teach!
Work on your technical skills so you can take high quality & well composed photos. (If you are hungry to grow in this area choose our Photography elective for the Discipleship Training School (DTS) or if you have already completed a DTS, apply now for the School of Photography & Storytelling, offered here at YWAM Orlando).
Kristen Anderson | YWAM Orlando Staff
Feature Image By: Eivind Lovund