Ministry of Presence core to my Photojournalism

John-Michael Riggs, from Knoxville, TN dressed like a warrior to be part of the The Annual Trans March which started at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia on Saturday, October 13, 2018. Riggs says he alternates from a peace outfit to a warrior outfit each year. [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/1250]
While covering the Transgender Parade, which is part of Atlanta Pride events, I watched as the people in the parade were reacting to each other like a family reunion.

I found everyone that I talked to very open. I was needing to get their information for writing captions for the photos I was taking.

Robin Rayne and Emily Graven are covering The Annual Trans March at Piedmont Park on Saturday, October 13, 2018 in Atlanta, GA. [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/200]
Emily Graven, a UGA Photojournalism student, was shadowing me for the day. We met up with Robin Rayne who has been covering this event for many years to get some tips.

In looking for stories we spend time talking with people. When we have done a good job of building relationships with people they will come out of their shell.

Emma & Zoe are sisters whose dad (behind them), Christian Zsilavetz, is the founder of the Atlanta Pride school. They are at The Annual Trans March at Piedmont Park In Atlanta on Saturday, October 13, 2018. [X-E3, XF10-24mm ƒ/4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/4, 1/1250]
What I find very important in being a good photojournalist is be present with people. This means you listen, laying down our defensiveness and agendas, and offering up empathy instead.

Jackson Wells, Sebastian Broome, Caire Mattera, Ariel Washington, Cat, Jessica Renee, Jas Rochelle meet each at The Annual Trans March at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, on Saturday, October 13, 2018. They are from all over Georgia and Virginia. [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 500, ƒ/5.6, 1/100]
The most courageous thing we can do is listen. The bravest thing we can do is to stand with them.

I had learned about the concept of the ministry of presence through some pastoral counseling sessions and a great deal more when my wife was a chaplain at the VA hospital.

The ministry of presence is a way of “being” rather than of “doing” or “telling”.

The Annual Trans March – alongside Piedmont Park has people dressed all up participating on Saturday, October 13, 2018. [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 400, ƒ/4.8, 1/1500]
My undergraduate degree was a B.S. in social work. It was this training that helped me be a better photojournalist. That coupled with my pastoral classes in seminary taught me how to prepare to be with others that are suffering  is not to think about what to say or what to do. We are not anticipating how to react to certain situations that might develop.

We prepare by being present in the moment–The NOW.

The Annual Trans March – alongside Piedmont Park has people dressed all up participating on Saturday, October 13, 2018. [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 200, ƒ/9, 1/240]
To maintain objectivity in journalismjournalists should present the facts whether or not they like or agree with those facts. Objective reporting is meant to portray issues and events in a neutral and unbiased manner, regardless of the writers opinion or personal beliefs.

Now when I show up anywhere I am bringing all of me to that place. One of the greatest things to change my life has been my faith. When I read my bible I do not use it to condemn others, I use it to help change me. Through the years the scriptures have challenged me in ways that has helped me be a much better journalist.

Matthew 1:23 
23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When telling the story of Jesus the Bible talks about the birth of Christ and him being called Immanuel. In most of the Bibles I have they have in parenthesis what Immanuel means. “God with us.”

John 13:35
“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

The scripture points out that we are to be like Christ to others. We are to “be” with others.

Robin Rayne, Bureau Chief of Zuma Press, Talks with Monica Helms who created the Transgender Flag more than twenty years ago at the staging area for The Annual Trans March at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia. [X-E3, XF10-24mmF4 R OIS, ISO 640, ƒ/9, 1/100]
As journalists we too need to learn to just “be” with others. This is where you are there to listen. You ask them questions to understand them. You ask for their stories.

I don’t want to hear, “If Truth be told.” This means they feel somewhat uncomfortable.

I mention that because many people feel they must be guarded. They don’t believe people will believe them and use their words against them.

My mentor Howard Chapnick wrote a book that the title alone says what the power of photojournalism is all about–Truth Needs No Ally.

Artes is from Birmingham, AL and came to be part of the The Annual Trans March at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, GA on Saturday, October 13, 2018. [X-E2, XF55-200mmF3.5-4.8 R LM OIS, ISO 400, ƒ/4, 1/1800]
TRUTH is the rock foundation of every great character. It is loyalty to the right as we see it; it is courageous living of our lives in harmony with our ideals; it is always—power.

I challenge you to learn to just “be” with others today. Learn to listen. One of the hardest parts of doing this correctly is not letting someone’s comment have you thinking about a reply. Truth comes when we really listen with the intent to understand.

Leave a Reply