My calling to be a photojournalist

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/20

Back in high school, I felt a call to be a preacher. For those unfamiliar with this kind of language, I will explain this a little more.

A vocation (from Latin vocātiō, meaning “a call, summons”) is an occupation to which a person is specially drawn or for which she/he is suited, trained, or qualified. Though now often used in non-religious contexts, the meanings of the term originated in Christianity.

In my Christian tradition, we believe that one is responding to God.

After this, I heard the Lord ask, “Is there anyone I can send? Will someone go for us?”

“I’ll go,” I answered. “Send me!” – Isaiah 6:8

While early in my career, I would say that when I decided not to go to seminary after getting my Social Work undergraduate degree, I took a detour; now, I would say I was learning how to tell stories.

While working on my master’s thesis on Don Rutledge, I realized I was a preacher. So here is what I wrote in my thesis:

After talking with Don, this writer felt redirected in his call to be a minister who used the camera as a central part of his ministry.  Many who are Christian photojournalists have struggled with the call.  In many ways, the Christian photojournalist is a preacher.  The photojournalist’s illustrations are not done with words in the pulpit but with photographs on the printed page.

Today I would change that last line to say with still/motion images used in many mediums to tell the story.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/30

The men in these photos are pastors in Burkina Faso, learning how to be effective preachers to lead their congregations.

In 1992 a few of my friends started the Southwestern Photojournalism Seminar in Fort Worth, Texas. To help identify who we were, we came up with this sentence:

The Southwestern Photojournalism Conference is the conference for those who believe photojournalism to be a calling and the act of bearing witness to be important.

I believe all photojournalists are responding to a call. Those who agree to the profession’s code of ethics that you can find here seek truth and communicate that to their audience.

The hardest part of the code of ethics to me is trying to be sure you are being truthful. Being truthful means, you must spend time getting to know the story. It would help if you dug to be sure you are representing the subject accurately and that after seeing your account will feel that you accurately described the subject’s story.

I learned how to exegete scripture While in seminary.

Exegesis includes a wide range of critical disciplines: textual criticism is the investigation into the history and origins of the text, but exegesis may include the study of the historical and cultural backgrounds for the author, the text, and the original audience. Other analysis includes classification of the type of literary genres present in the text, and an analysis of grammatical and syntactical features in the text itself.

I went to seminary after working as a photojournalist for more than six years. I found that the skill was pretty similar to what a journalist does to be sure they understand a story.

My call story is unique to me but has a lot of similarities to some biblical characters like Jacob, Joseph, and even Moses.

Looking back through the lives of these biblical characters, you see how God took each thing that often was a struggle to help prepare them for their calling.

Moses complained about his voice to God. I was born with Autism. Both of us complained about our struggle to communicate.

I can tell you that the camera brought me great comfort in helping me navigate this world. I am so thankful that my father, a Baptist preacher, advised me to be central in either Social Work or Business as an undergraduate and that I would get all my biblical studies in seminary.

Majoring in Social Work taught me how to listen with my ears and eyes. I learned how to ask questions to get to the bottom of a problem. I also learned about body language and how to read people. Social work would later help me tremendously with a camera and recognize why specific photos were better at communicating than others.

While my intention of going to seminary to get my master’s in communication to return to the church to do photojournalism, the required courses in education and theology would genuinely teach me more skills that I use today.

Nikon D2X, Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 EX, ISO 800, ƒ/2.8, 1/60

Had I not been willing to take a different direction by becoming a photojournalist, I might be a pastor today of a congregation. Each week I would prepare a sermon and speak to my community. Pastors equip the saints to do the work of the church.

However, because I followed the call to use photojournalism as my pulpit, the audiences I have reached through different newspapers, magazines, online media, and the list goes on is not a few hundred. Still, I am touching the world with the photos I have been privileged by my subjects with their help to capture so that audiences will understand the world in which they live better than they did before they saw these images.

I believe I am equipping the saints by educating them with photos, text/audio, and even cinema that helps to deliver stories to them so that they can take action to make this world even better because they now know more than they knew before.

My favorite thing today is to teach others who feel called into this profession of photojournalism/storyteller and equip them to do even more than I could.