FAITH AND PHOTOGRAPHY

"A Faith that leans; not bends." Photograph by Geoff Mercado.

“A Faith that leans; not bends.” Photograph by Geoff Mercado.

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.

 

"Sunsets and Clouds" by Geoff Mercado

“Sunsets and Clouds” by Geoff Mercado

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?

 

"Distant Horizons" by Geoff Mercado

“Distant Horizons” by Geoff Mercado

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.

 

The Church of the Gesu by Geoff Mercado

The Church of the Gesu by Geoff Mercado

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.

 

CONCLUSION

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!

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