The Story Behind The Story

A local photography club in which I participate assigned a project. We were to create a still life image. I love stories, so I started gathering the props to tell a story of a traveling musician who missed his family while on the road. The props had a modern feel. For example, I was going to use a ukulele and a photo of my wife and kids from several years ago.

I decided to ask my kids to help gather some props and they eagerly jumped to the task. My son came out of his room with a battered violin he found at his grandparents’ house. The thing looked incredible! My daughter emerged from her room with a pocket watch and what looked like an engagement ring. And we found some old black and white photos of my kids’ grandma when she was young. 

Suddenly the story took on a new twist with the introduction of these awesome props. We started building a scene about a man who chose fame and wealth through his music over the young woman he loved. He had bought her an engagement ring, but never proposed because the dream of fame and wealth was far more enticing. Now years later, he carries the ring and photos of her on his musical travels.

The story is laced with regret, melancholy and a desperate hope that he can return to her. But we know the odds of their reunion of love are slim.

I love the story we created. Storytelling with one image is what makes photography so rich. But even more, I love the story behind the story. In this case, the collaboration with my kids was a fun and memorable time. And the images are as much theirs as they are mine.

It makes me think that there might be a Story behind that story…

Relaunching Images From The Journey

As I mentioned in my last post, I had a photoblog in 2009-2010 that was an offshoot of this blog. 

The primary reason I entered photography was to stop and discover the innate beauty of God’s world — to explore the “extra” in the ordinary. The photoblog was a place where I could reflect on some of these images.

Ten years later, my life is full. And in its fullness, I’ve neglected the habit of pausing, observing, and reflecting. It’s time to make a change. As part of this change, I’m restarting the photoblog.

St Paul says, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” My hope is the photoblog will become that place again in my life.

So why use a photoblog and not just use social media? I currently post a lot of photos on both my professional and personal Instagram accounts. But social media is designed for self-promotion and images stream quickly by in one’s feeds. 

A photoblog seems to be a more conducive platform to slow down and reflect. And while this might seem sappy and overly romanticized, I like to see my blog posts, both here and in the photoblog, as similar to messages in a bottle in the vast ocean of the internet. I don’t know if anyone will ever see my posts. But perhaps a serendipitous Google search may bring someone here at just the right time in their life’s journey. 

So I’m relaunch the photoblog. If you’re interested, you can find it at imagesfromthejourney.com. I’ve also created a link in the “My Photography” page of this blog.

Life’s Transactions

Ten years ago, I tried my hand at a photoblog. I took up photography as a hobby because it helped me to stop and see the world in a way that my busy life normally prevented. The photoblog was a small place on the internet to post the images I created along with short reflections.

Not having any photographic technique, my entry-level camera was set to automatic. But taking a great photo wasn’t the goal. The goal was to pause and glimpse a glimmer of beauty that I would normally miss. And in the process, I hoped I was becoming a slightly better person for it. I can’t remember why I ended the photoblog, but it lasted about a year. 

About five years ago, I began to take photography more seriously. I bought a better camera, set it to manual and began learning ISO, aperture, shutter speed and the nuances of lighting and post-processing. In that process, I still searched for beauty. But the goal of my photography subtly shifted from pausing and pondering to creating a better image. As my technique developed, I began posting on various social media platforms not with the purpose of reflection, but of exposure. I’m still finding beauty, but I’ve almost stopped reflecting. I’m pausing to find the subject for an image and process it to emphasize its appeal, but I’ve ceased ruminating on the subtly of its attraction.

Now looking back over the last several years, I feel I’ve lost something in order to gain something. 

These kind of transactions occur throughout our lives. We make certain decisions and start a journey rarely knowing its true trajectory. With a healthy dose of hindsight that only time provides, we realize the true cost of those transactions.

We are finite beings, so money, energy, passion and resources invested into certain areas of our lives often means other areas won’t receive the same kind of attention. Most of the time, we weigh our options and choose what seems best in the moment. Sometimes that can be a good thing. But other times, not so much.

Fortunately, if caught soon enough, some of these transactions can be refinanced. Resources can be redirected to nurture an area that has lain fallow so that over time new growth may emerge.

There’s a word for this process of refinancing our life’s transactions — repentance. Try to hear that word without any of its religious connotations. When Jesus used the word, it did not have any religious meaning. It meant “think about it.” Think about what you’re doing in your life and the repercussions of your actions. And in that process, consider that there might actually be a better way. And once you’ve weighed the options, choose the better way. That’s repentance. That’s refinancing those costly life transactions.

We often think of applying repentance to much larger things. But sometimes repentance needs to be applied to some of the “smaller” areas of life. For example, not spending regular time in quiet reflection can exact a huge cost over months and years, shaping us into a certain kind of person.

But whether it’s a large or small area of our life, God’s Spirit invites us to “think about it” and to empower us in the process of refinancing our life transactions. And through it, we experience the vast richness of God’s power and presence.

Where Past And Present Overlap

Back in February 2017, I decided to become more intentional with my photography. So virtually every weekend, I would buy a cup of coffee and go to Finkbiner Park in Glendora, CA. I would walk around sipping my coffee and taking photos of compositions that caught my eye.

Why Finkbiner Park? This was a place that my kids visited frequently in their childhood and still holds a fondness in my heart and memories. I would regularly take them to this park and they would innocently play and laugh as children.

Now my kids are adults. They face adult struggles and stresses. They have adult dreams and goals. But when I stroll through Finkbiner Park, I can still see and hear them as little children. For a short time every weekend, I’m flooded with memories as my past and present overlap. I relax in all the thoughts and emotions that surface. And I take photos.

I never had the intention of making my weekly trips to Finkbiner Park a photography project. Ever since I took up photography, my goal has been to use this art form to force myself to see ordinary things from unique perspectives and hopefully see something beautiful that I and others would normally miss. But over the past year, I’ve amassed a couple hundred photos of the park and surrounding neighborhood. I used different cameras, lenses, photography styles, and editing processes to capture some of the beauty of this small local park.

I have uploaded all of my Finkbiner Park photos into a Flickr album if anyone is interested in looking at the images. There are some good photos, same mediocre ones and some bad ones. But, they all form a special visual memoir of this past year. I also post a lot of my photos on my Instagram account if you’re interested in following me there.

I think the image at the top of this post captures this experience. Time is like the gate that has closed upon a stage of my life very dear to me, a time when I watched my four children experience life with innocence and wonder and play. The playground in the background is like my memories of my children — colorful, dreamy and slowly fading out of focus.

I absolutely adore my adult children and who they’ve become. But, I painfully miss my little children and the life we shared together. And for a little sliver of time each weekend, I get to capture images of the present as my past swirls around me.

Fascinated With What Others Don’t See

I just viewed a beautiful photo and read some wonderful thoughts by Zeb Andrews. View his photo here. And here are his thoughts:

“I think one of the greatest gifts of photography is the ability to be fascinated by something as seemingly mundane as an empty parking lot. Ok, in all fairness it wasn’t simply an empty parking lot, but rather the reflection of light at night across the shiny surface of a wet, empty parking lot. But that is still fairly mundane. Not many people are sitting at home and think to themselves, “You know what I want to do tonight? It’s not dinner, it’s not club hopping, it’s empty parking lots.” Not many people, but I am willing to be a vast majority of the people who do think such things are photographers. Because that’s what photography does for you, it gives you the tools you need to notice such things and strengthened sense of creativity to appreciate them.

“I don’t know about you, but I really appreciate that. For me then, it isn’t even about being able to make an interesting photo of such things, but rather simply the noticing of them. I think this image is alright, I doubt I will ever print it, it’s interesting enough to post along with this short essay here on Flickr, so that counts for something. But the value that came from this experience was all in the experience itself, standing there in a big, open parking lot that was a few hours removed from being packed with cars and people, that was noisy with human activity and had become silent, the play of the different color temperatures of light across its reflective surface, and the speed at which the clouds were traveling on the stormy breeze through the skies above.

“All in all, it was a good moment to be in and one I doubt I would have ever found without the benefit of photography.”

What is true in photography is even more true in spiritual formation. I think we’re all aware that technology has reduced our culture’s awareness to simply swiping up, down, left or right to see the next new thing that tickles our senses.

But spiritual disciplines like silence, solitude, prayer, repentance, and fasting force us to stop and look. We cannot simply swipe left when confronted with personal or society’s brokenness. Nor can we simply swipe right into Christ’s likeness. God’s movement in our lives is not a social media feed through which we can casually scroll. Spiritual disciplines compel us to stop, see and become fascinated with the Spirit’s work like a photographer is fascinated by light, color, and reflections.

Slowing Down

I look forward to my weekends. And for me, this photo summarizes one of the reasons why. On Saturdays and Sundays mornings, I try to make time to walk and take photos. Like everyone, all week I’m rushing and working. But for an hour or so on the weekends, I slow down, look around, and try to see things I normally wouldn’t notice.

This photo is an example. As I walked through a local park I saw a discarded softball in an empty field, a leftover abandoned after a team practice. I don’t know how long it lay there or who else noticed it. But there was something tranquil and poignant about this scene. So I kneeled down on the red dirt and snapped a couple of images.

The next morning, a softball team was practicing on the field. The ball was gone, probably thrown into a trashcan, forever forgotten. But life moved onward.

I get it. It’s just a softball. But this photo reminds me that I had the privilege of seeing a small part of God’s creation in a way that maybe no one else on this planet did. And I just didn’t see it. I got to get my knees dirty and enter and engage that special moment in order to capture it, to memorialize it.

I think part of our role as God’s image-bearers is to notice. We have to first notice in order to care, love and bless.

Dallas Willard once said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.” It’s almost impossible to be God’s image-bearers without noticing. And it’s almost impossible to notice without removing hurry from our lives.

Photography reminds me to slow down and look. It reminds me that there is far more to life than my worries, my struggles, my dreams, my agenda. There are moments and lives into which I can enter if only I slow down and notice.

Present In The Moment Through Photography

I have quoted Zeb Andrews on this blog several times before. There are many photographers that inspire me to become a more skilled photographer. But there are a select few who actually inspire me to become a better person through photography. Zeb Andrews is one of those unique photographers.

One of the original reasons I fell in love with photography was because it helped me see normal, everyday things from a different perspective; to see details that I would have ordinarily overlooked. Photography has helped me to become more aware. And in the process of becoming aware, it helped me to become more thankful.

Yesterday on his Flickr account, Zeb posted the following image and reflection that shares my original passion for photography:

roundabouts-zeb_andrews_2016“Roundabouts” by Zeb Andrews

“I have said this before, but I have no problem talking about it again because good things have a tendency to come back around… and around… and around.

“I try not to be a photographer to do things. I mean, my goal isn’t to take photos. It isn’t even to make photos. It just so happens that in my normal course of photography that I make lots of pictures, but I see this as a side benefit. I am a photographer to be things, not do them. I want to be creative. I want to be inquisitive. I want to be attentive. I want to be in the moment and I want to be hopeful of the future. I want to be fascinated and awe struck at the myriad subtleties to life and the world. I want to be aware of the fact that no matter where I go or when I am that there are so many things that are different than where I came from… and there are also so many things that are the same. I want to enjoy the pattern that a leaf makes skittering across the road in a gust of wind. I want to look back in uncertain curiosity at that cat crouched in the windowsill watching me. I want to spend some portion of my life wondering about the coincidence of that red car parked in front of that red house with the bush full of red flowers right between them. Who thinks these things up, after all?

“Because then, regardless of whether photos come of the moment or not, I get something vastly more rewarding.

“Take revolving doors for a moment. This is a revolving door I have walked past countless times. It is a door I have barely noticed. I have never felt a shred of curiosity about it. I have never walked through… never been tempted to walk through it… never had a reason to be tempted to walk through it. But this is what photography helps me to be… curious, with reason and cause.

“I am well aware that there is a vast gulf of things we are blind to in our daily lives, things we take for granted or fail to notice. I know I never can, but I want to notice it all. I want a revolving door to be as fascinating as an ancient church in France.

“Anyway, that is what this image is really all about.”