My Aspirational Principles

Throughout this blogging, my goal is to gradually refine this code of conduct to state the principles to which I aspire in my Christian Documentary Photography.  So this is not finished, or even mostly finished. It’s just what I have discerned so far.

I started with a set of guidelines for still photography developed by Chitrabani, a Christian communication center in Calcutta, India, as reported by the Center for Media Literacy.  From there I am adding and editing in principles each time I write posts on the Christian Approach.  This is what I have so far.

Construct Your Vision

Strive to …

-      Construct a vision out of a “Christian understanding of life in the world.”  Christians have a unique world view.  Use it to see and capture it.

-      Seek realism within the Christian framework.  We don’t want to capture people with plastic smiles.  The world is fallen.  We need to show that where appropriate.

-      Document the path toward peace.  While cynics abound today, God can lead us to a better life.  We can show that path.  We can offer hope by shining light and seeking light in dark places.

Avoid

-      Feeling the need to evangelize in every essay we create. There is a time and a place for everything. This is documentary photography, and the blunt instrument of evangelism doesn’t belong in every essay.  Moderation is the key.

-      Simply romanticizing.  Romanticizing and fantasizing are close cousins, and both generally are defined by reference to an impossible outcome.  While with God all things are possible, any projections regarding future state should be biblically-based, and our fallen world should not be portrayed as better than it is.

-      Accomplishing mere self-expression or self-aggrandizement.  This is not about you or me.  We live in community, and the whole point of this genre is to help others. Thus, in everything we do, we should be guided by our Lord and our love for our neighbor. Not to see our byline or get something off our chests.

Living Your Vision

Here we drift from talking about the photography to talking about the photographer.  But in as much as the photographs reflect the photographer, this section is relevant.

-      Above all, live and work with integrity.  It is all about the means, not the ends.  We need to do right before our work can produce fruit.  Don’t let the little temptations lead us away from the right way to create Christian documentary photography.

-      Be strategic in your choice of projects. Remember you are part of the body of Christ, and there are many others in the world working on other projects. Pick a project where you are needed, perhaps because the project uniquely fits your given talents, and others are not already focused on it.  Encourage people to tell the story that only they can from their unique experience and perspective.

-      Navigate between the divergent communities of faith and photography. Christian photographers will need to manage their conflicted loyalties—between the often-opposing expectations of the photography world and those of their faith community. The challenge is to maintain both integrity and credibility in both directions.

What to Photograph

–      Balanced seeing: look for the good addressing the bad, offering hope.

–     What you photograph and how you photograph are determined by why you photograph and for whom you photograph.

–      When photographing people do not treat them as if they were objects.  Don’t be condescending toward or stereotype others, such as women, minorities or other cultures.

–      Avoid taking people’s pictures, and instead give images, especially to the image-less.

–      Avoid depicting people as useless or inadequate. It is their helplessness which has to be shown.

–      Avoid invading anybody’s privacy.

–      Yet, boldly reach into personal life, bearing in mind that the photographs you take are your brothers’ and sisters.

–     Avoid photographing people while they are praying.

–     Never exalt people, such as volunteers: Only the Lord is worthy of such praise.

–     Show the body of Christ, how we are all connected and meant to fit together.

–     Tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.  Look for the tension that captures the interest.  Strive for context and completeness.

How to Photograph

–      Avoid vaulting aesthetics over accuracy.

–      There is no need to prettify people and objects; they have their beauty, and a good photograph exudes beauty.

–      Sensationalism diverts attention from the essential.  Avoid spectacles.  Guard your credibility.

–      Shun extra long lenses. A short lens draws you near your subject.

–      Try to establish a rapport with the person you photograph.  Relationships matter.

Social Concern

–      Photos should offer hope, plus inspire change in some concrete form.

–     Let not your photographs drift away from context.

–      Earn the right to see what you wish to show.

–      Your social concern is to document life with empathy.

–      Be true to the image people want to have of themselves, but at the same time do show what you believe is their real image. The dignity of the poor, in particular, demands that their situation be known.

–      A documentary coverage can never be total. Complete a biased image by another biased image.

Your Public

–      Maintain a clear-eyed focus on those who have the power to fix the issue, or at least those who influence the people in power.  Craft your message to target them.

-      Don’t be confrontational.  Confrontation has never been an effective strategy for advocacy.

-      Expect to be verbally attacked.  In the Book of Mark (13:9-13), Jesus forewarns his disciples they will be persecuted for following him.  It comes with the territory.

-      Photos should not be used to exploit the persons portrayed.

–      Refrain from showing a photograph if undesirable manipulation cannot be averted.

–      Lending your photographs for “illustrating” articles that have hardly anything to do with the persons photographed is like lending your voice to somebody else’s speech.

–      Don’t mislead.  Destroy the myth that photographs are duplicates of reality.

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