This week I’ve been helping out with a photography camp our Outreach and Arts ministries are hosting at Church at Charlotte for a group of middle school and high school students from Gladedale, one of our ServeLocal partners, and from our church. We’ve partnered up with Silent Images, a local non-profit organization that uses photography—and video and graphic design and all sorts of other media—to help other non-profits tell their stories.
On Monday, David Johnson, the Director of Silent Images, presented some initial thoughts on photography to the students. Two of the things he noted stuck with me particularly. He began by asking us to think about the meaning of the word “photography.” I’d never thought about it before, but the root words are “photo”—light and “graph”—writing. Photography is, David said, “writing with light.” One of his rules for the week was “look for the light.”
The second thing David noted which stood out to me was the idea that a photograph tends to be seen as an objective witness to events. He asked us to think about how cameras on our phones have in recent days impacted the course of history. From showing the abuses of corrupt governments to recording a sequence of events in a conflict, a camera in the hands of an individual standing on a street can have tremendous power.
With these two thoughts swimming through my head, I started thinking about what I wanted to share with the students when I had the chance to lead a devotional. A camera in hand is a powerful tool, and so I thought of some guidelines for using our “powers.”
I began by thinking about writing with light. As the daughter of a missionary photographer, I’ve heard messages about light in Scripture many times in my life. My dad always starts in Genesis 1:3, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” And then he notes that interestingly, God creates light before He creates the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. That thought takes my dad right to the end of the Bible, to Revelation 21:3, where John says of the New Jerusalem, “And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.”
There is a light at the very beginning of Scripture which we see again at its very end—God, and His glory.
In 1 John 1:5, the apostle writes, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.” And in his Gospel, he tells the story of that Light coming into the world: “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5).
David said one more thing that stuck with me on that first day. As he was giving out his “rules” for photography, he encouraged the students to always be looking for natural light. “The light God gave us always looks better than the light we try to create,” he said.
I encouraged the students to think about that idea of God as light and to remember the power of the tools in their hands. And as they sought beauty in the world around them to capture with their lens, or as they saw injustice needing to be righted, I asked them to think about the shining light of God, which both illuminates and reveals, and which darkness has not—and cannot—overcome.
One of my favorite authors, N.D. Wilson, writes in his book Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl, “The world is rated R, and no one is checking IDs. Do not try to make it G by imagining the shadows away. Do not try to hide your children from the world forever, but do not try to pretend there is no danger. Train them. Give them sharp eyes and bellies full of laughter. Make them dangerous. Make them yeast, and when they’ve grown, they will pollute the shadows.”