Pretend They’re Wild Animals?

Gray Jay_LAHI love taking pictures of God’s creation. Soaring mountains, flower-bedecked meadows, the year’s first crocus, a Gray Jay landing on a boulder—they all remind me of the Lord who created them, and I love to capture his fingerprints in pixels. In fact, you might say it consumes me.

I remember a birding trip one cold February. It was a whopping eleven degrees with freezing fog. Everyone else was in the warm house drinking tea and watching the feeders through the windows. I was out in the yard snapping photos, oblivious to the cold.

Willow_LAH_8333I also love taking photos of babies and small children—those young enough that they don’t know they’re having their picture taken, or little enough not to care.

Photographing adults? No, thank you, I’d rather not. You see, adults have opinions. They want to present a certain look to the world, and expect me to capture that image. Hide the wrinkles, hide the double chin. Present the best side. Is the hair just right? Makeup flattering? Does this outfit make me look fat?

So, given that I love taking pictures of nature, and have an aversion to taking pictures of persons who have grown-up (more or less), what does God tell me to do?

Right. I’m going to Swaziland to take pictures of people. Haha, God, good one. Maybe if I pretend all these people are birds, flowers, or wild animals, it will be easier.

As I’ve mentioned, I’m joining a team from my church that is going to Swaziland. We’ll be visiting two Children’s Hope Chest care points where, in conjunction with the resident staff and a local church, we’ll be helping with projects, loving on the staff, and playing with the kids who hang out there after school. My role is trip photographer.

What does that entail? Good question. I won’t really know until I get there, but here’s what I’ve gathered so far. I’ll be documenting the trip, from beginning to end. I believe I’m supposed to take pictures of my teammates in action. I’ll also show the physical aspects—the few buildings and the surroundings—of each care point. The goal is to educate our congregation about what our church is doing in Swaziland, to motivate more people to get involved.

My first thought was that I’ll be bringing home pictures of “starving children in Africa.” We’ve all seen the promotional materials for organizations such as Compassion and World Vision—depicting half-naked kids with runny noses and swollen stomachs. How could you possibly say no to that pathetic face, those entreating eyes?

But no, I was told, the children we’ll meet aren’t like that. The CHC care points provide a meal, medical care, and other resources, and the children are healthy. I was relieved. To a large degree, I see the poignant pictures as manipulative. Here’s why.

Yes, there are starving children in Africa. Yes, we need to do something about that. But, as Steve Wright stated in his outstanding blog, El Chupacabra Writes,

 The impoverished are people that can and do know God.  Refugees are people that can and do give back to their communities.  The least of these are people just like you and me that can and are being equipped to make disciples of Jesus. Being poor doesn’t make someone less capable of receiving or passing on the Good News, it just makes them poor!

When a [c]hurch, a missionary, an aid organization, or whoever chooses to use a picture or even tell a story for the sole purpose of creating an emotional response without telling the whole story, we reduce those people we are claiming to serve to their poverty, we are exploiting them, and we are hurting the [C]hurch.

I urge you to read the rest of his post. It’s short and well worth a few minutes. Then check out the website he references and read about the Perspectives of Poverty photo project.

Now I know what kinds of pictures I’m going to be taking… ones that give dignity and value to those I’m photographing.

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