that out of our greatest pain,
our most profound personal mission in life.
LIVING FROM THE HEART JESUS GAVE YOU, E. JAMES WILDER
Where it began, where it's going.
I’ve been a photographer most of my life really. I remember my first camera clearly… A film kodak point and shoot that I won from our local department store in a coloring contest. I think I was in grade 4 or 5. I’ve done a ridiculous amount of photography, and if you’re a close friend of mine, we’ve got some wild and senseless photo shoots boxed away in some attic.
My family and I moved abroad in 2010 to serve as missionaries in Cape Town, South Africa. This is where I picked up my first DSLR. It was a borrowed Canon 7d with a 50mm lens. My friend Hannah is one of the most brilliant photographers I know and one of my closest friends. She began taking me on shoots with her—and I fell in love. This time it was head-over-heels, drive-my-whole-family-crazy type of love.
Perhaps it was because of the circumstances I was in at the time. Hannah and I were volunteering for an organization called baby safe as mommy mentors and found ourselves in situations that caused a lot of heartache and pain. Picking up the camera and finding a new way to “See” this beautiful country I was in, changed my life and photography forever.
No longer was I just taking pictures of people to remember the moment, have something to share with family back home or print off for our friends, but it all changed. It became one of the greatest points of tension for me. I did not want to use photographs to tell a story about south africa that the world already knew. I longed to share the story of the beauty, resilience, generosity, peaceful side that I knew about this country. Yes, there is war, violence, drugs, injustices that I had never seen or experienced before. But there was something so deep that I was being taught, I struggled with my love of photography. But I did shoot…One of my most favorite things to do and I continue to do when I visit is take pictures of my friends and their community, print off the photos and gift it to them.
In 2014 my husband surprised me with my first DSLR. He had made a deal with the owner of the camera I kept borrowing and one day I didn’t have to return it!! I then enrolled in the photography institute, and took 12 months to learn the camera and get certified as a professional photographer.
However, the end of the struggle and the emergence of the beauty came when I was a student for a master’s program called Christian Formation & Discipleship. Through this program I have gotten more clarity and revelation on God’s heart for visual arts.
During one of my photo projects for the program, I did an assignment that required me to take the time to listen to god, myself and what I was shooting. This project has forever changed the way I pick up my camera. Here is the conclusion to that assignment and what has been my biggest lesson so far:
In the past I have photographed many people who would be classified as marginalized in society. I have sought to bring dignity to these people and not exploit them or post them on social media without their permission. What has changed for me is this: as a photographer, I am not in the position to bring them dignity (“A quality of being worthy of honor or respect”).
As image bearers of god, dignity already exists in their created being.
I consider it a privilege to capture that dignity and share in it.