How can we more concretely practice our faith today? Well, I have a suggestion: The Jesuit Spirituality asserts that God can be found everywhere and in everyone (omnipresent). However, the usual challenge of this statement is, “Where do we start, if He is everywhere?” I have another idea: We can start to find God in all things through photography.
What people don’t realize is that Photography is a spiritual activity—a reflective process: from taking an image, to selecting, to editing, to taking once again. In fact, Christina Paintner dedicates a whole book (Eyes of the Heart) explaining how photography marries with Christian spirituality. With her help, allow me to show you how this works.
CAPTURING THE REVEALED
Going back to as far as the Old Testament, God is THE initiator: He reveals Himself first and then we respond to this revelation either in His favor or not. As Paintner comments, we “receive images” from around and then we capture these through our equipment. Any photography enthusiast would agree that photography is more than just about taking photos, but it is a way of seeing the world purposefully—it’s a way of life. The trick is to preserve as closely as possible (with the help of a camera) WHAT you saw and HOW you saw it. Photography, then, is knowing how to look for beauty in the ordinary and mundane, showing to others how they [images taken] truly are: “Good” in God’s eyes. Isn’t this what faith is about as well: Seeking God’s presence even in the small and ordinary?
There are many agreed upon rules in photography and I think it would be good to mention one: Perspective. When we do things over and over again and expect to get different results, who are we kidding? Photography is a creative process: always seeking for what’s new, and a literal act of out-of-the-box thinking. Photography, therefore, beckons us to ask “What if?” and then challenges us with “Why not?” (to borrow Fr. Johnny Go, S.J.’s words). Isn’t this what happens in faith as well?
PHOTO-EDITING AND THE FAITH LIFE
Aside from taking photos, the photographic process also includes the selection of images and their editing. Much like the events in our lives, we don’t remember all, but we deliberately try to keep the best ones (whether they were joyous or painful). Especially in street photography, it’s unavoidable to have unwanted elements in your photos (like body parts of people just in the peripheries of the frame). We crop the unwanted elements in order to put more emphasis on the main subject (whatever that may be). Much like in life, we learn to crop off or let go of some things that do not at all relate with our main goals.
In street photography, it’s rather difficult to end up with a perfectly exposed photo unless you’ve undoubtedly mastered your device. But because most of us are not masters yet, we still need to go back to our “darkrooms” and edit the photos as how we saw them when we took them. Normally, the settings we adjust first are Contrast and Brightness (exposure in some editing software) and then the rest of the elements in the photo come after. Much like our faith life, it’s not perfect: we make adjustments to make it more bearable, to make our subject (God) more visible. The end product of these adjustments is to have a processed experience that’s worth keeping and/or sharing with others.
However, I’m afraid that nowadays we have a filter-mindset where we rely more on ready-made presets (filters) to make our photos more compelling than they really are—perhaps similar to how some of us “perform” certain religious rites in order to absolve our sins and leave no follow through after. Filters are supposed to emphasize what is already beautiful in the photo and not replace it, much like how an overt fulfillment of rites or sacraments should further enhance the living faith that is already present, and not replace it.
FEEDBACK AND THE FAITH LIFE
We develop our own style of taking and processing photos which we hope will be accepted enthusiastically by a community—much like how we post for “likes”. Because we invest a lot of ourselves in our photographs just like how we invest much of ourselves in our faith life, it’s difficult to hear feedback from others who also have their own way of doing things. However, corrections are necessary for improvement, lest we end up with our own fantasies of how things should be done. Although there is no one way of doing things, having a good idea of how we’re fairing with others of authority will always be helpful.
Thus, invite comments and start conversations whether it be about how you took and processed your photos or how you live out your faith. Those who allow their works to be examined are on their way to becoming better photographers, much like the faithful. Although the photographer/faithful person is the arbiter of his/her actions, a little guidance shouldn’t hurt and help keep an open mind.
The messy work of reflecting, editing, reflecting and re-editing in photography is the whole experience of our faith lives after all.
Faith, in the strictest sense, is expressed both in our everyday and religious lives. I’m not promoting photography as a REPLACEMENT for religious rituals, but rather as a COMPLIMENTARY activity. For those of us who are still finding our way, photography can be a good starting point. This discipline, after all, is a journey of self-reflection, and with practice, it allows us to see the world in a new light. If we keep at it, sooner or later we’ll start to see how wonderfully made the things are around us, and hopefully through our different lenses, we’ll get to see the most important yet elusive subject of all: God.
Happy shooting and never lose the fire!
There are as many stories out in the streets as there are stars at night, and the street photographer is the one who captures, processes and shares it to rest of us.
The camera was never meant to just take group photos of friends and family, nor was it just limited to taking shots of still-objects. The camera was meant to capture and retell a story. Where else can we find these interesting stories than out in the streets?
Ever since I could remember, I loved people-watching. Being invisible in a crowd and watching them go about their lives was one of the most satisfying past times I ever had. I even developed the nasty habit of suddenly appearing beside friends, usually making them jump out of their shoes. I was a born stalker. Like in this Piattos Commercial, at their expense, I invent hypothetical stories between people I meet in the streets—wondering if they were in a love quarrel or planning a scheme to overthrow the government. After finishing a degree in Psychology, the love for people watching grew even deeper.
Often I’d get into trouble after returning a camera to its owner who later finds a dozen candid shots of him/her in the camera–both flattering and unflattering. I couldn’t help it. I couldn’t let the moment of candidness pass by. We have so many rules on how to behave and how to present ourselves that we forget that we’re human precisely because we can be candid, and that’s why I take those shots: to remind others that they are human (even if they delete it).
Right now I don’t own a typical camera; just a smartphone—and this is what made me love street photography all the more.
In essence, street photography is about capturing “life as it is” in the streets. By “streets” that means the normal, everyday (even mundane) parts of our lives. As a result, street photos may not have any streets in them at all! What matters most is there was no deliberate manipulation on the subject/s and environment—unlike how we take photos in a studio. Street photography is about really capturing the moment as it happens in real life. Think of street photography as a qualitative method of study instead of an experimental one.
The problem with capturing life “as it is” is not everyone is willing to be photographed candidly. In effect, this genre is subtle and often impolite. This is where smartphones are most useful. Think about it, who on earth would suspect anyone to be a photographer if all they have is a phone? However, the intention of street photography is not to defame anyone but to share a story that they (whether they recognized it or not) were a part of.
This kind of photography is not for everyone (especially for the faint-hearted) because you always run the risk of being confronted. But in the rarest moments that someone does confront you, the best remedy is to simply smile and often they’d let you off the hook.
Practicing street photography makes you more aware of the elements of good composition at play in the everyday life. In fact, it’s made me realize concretely that everyone was part of a story and what an honor and burden it is to capture and retell that story. However, the difference in street photography is if you’re not fast enough, you’ll miss the moment and it will never come back. How many moments have I missed simply because I had just slipped my phone back in my pocket. But perhaps that’s life: we don’t get it all—one of the key insights you’d come to realize when you practice this genre.
A street photographer, then, does not only capture images, but receives them because of his/her involvement in the everyday lives of others. Being a street photographer is being an active participant in life.
For more of my street photos, you may visit my official website: http://www.manilaurban.com
It’s bittersweet: I want a break but I don’t want to be distant from friends; more so not see some when I come back. No amount of ceremonies could ever dampen the sting of parting. All I have now is the comfort of knowing that this heart’s sting is evidence of a heart that loved fully. Perhaps, this is what living is about: loving fully. Thank you Xavier School for a colourful school year!
It’s been two years since I was hired and I’ve felt nothing short of love. There’s something about this school. From the speeches of the best teacher awardees, coming to Xavier was accident—an unplanned event in their lives, yet, this unexpected twist turned for the better. Even my favourite professors in college once taught in this school. There’s a certain kind of magic that is unfolding here that makes me want to stay and see what happens next.
The last day of the school year was a day of closures: teachers leaving for whatever reasons, colleagues transferring to other assignments, leaders moving to different levels, and desks being emptied of past assessments and documents. The day was filled with people exchanging kind and parting words with each other and getting through the day. I was not exempted from bidding good friends farewell. How I wish I had another year to spend with them. Oh well, I guess I’ll just have to learn to love the others as much as I have cared for them.
Our principal gave a wonderfully heartfelt but very emotional message to the rest of the community. The normally jolly, quick-witted and enthusiastic administrator was left choking from her own tears as she read her letter. She will be missed sorely—at least I would.
This summer break is a much needed one. It’s time to recharge, recollect, and reconnect. Hopefully by the time we get back, we’re refreshed, renewed, and fully motivated in making our students the beacons that this dimming world needs.
Disclaimer: I took all the photos except for my photo with the Principal.