Why do I make photographs?
This is a question that I have wrestled with for some time now. Why is this something I’m passionate about? Why do images move my soul in ways that words never could? Why do I feel so compelled to constantly make new photographs?
I don’t think I’m alone in asking this question. There are many people out there who almost never leave home without taking a camera with them. They might see something or meet someone which for some inexplicable reason they just feel compelled to preserve that thing or moment in a photograph. It’s their way of connecting with the world they live in. I am one of those.
For me, I didn’t realize this about myself until I was almost 20 years old, despite the fact that I was always taking pictures of everything. Remember the old disposable 35mm film cameras that you can find right next to the candy bars in the check out lane at any store? I pretty much always had one with me. Then one day when I was about 17 or 18, I decided to “upgrade” and I picked up a Kodak Advantix 35mm. It lived either in my hand or in my backpack which likewise went everywhere with me. I have boxes and boxes of old Wal-Mart prints from my high school years. Mostly pictures of my friends and I being goofy and doing funny things. I was just taking pictures of what I was doing. I had an entire wall in my bedroom plastered from floor to ceiling with photos of my friends.
At that time in my life, I hadn’t realized my love for the art and craft. If you had asked me back then what I would be doing with my life ten years later, photography wouldn’t even have been on my radar.
It happened in early 2004. I was 19, living in Texas, where I met two guys named Justin and David. They were both talented hobby photographers and the images they created impacted me in a way that changed my life forever. Justin’s photos were always on film and were of a quiet and subtle character. He captured the little aspects of day-to-day life in a way that made everything seem deep and meaningful. He eventually gave it up but his influence on me remains to this day. David’s photos were exciting and full of adventure and drama. He went on to become David Molnar Photography, which I still follow his work today.
That year, I bought my first digital camera — a Canon PowerShot A75, and suddenly for the first time in my life I realized that there was something in my soul that just NEEDED to make photographs. Once again I was carrying that camera with me everywhere I went, but with a new sense of thoughtfulness in what I was doing. The “happy snaps” dwindled away and I started being more intentional about how I made photographs. But even still, it hadn’t occurred to me that it would ever be more than a hobby.
Fast forward a few years – I was just newly married and my wife Janna and I were preparing to spend a year in Belize, Central America. We decided that such an experience was deserving of spending the cash to pick up a more serious picture maker. A couple months before we departed the US, I bought my first DSLR. A Canon 40D with an 18-55mm kit lens and a few accessories. If everything else that led up to this point wasn’t enough, now I was truly hooked. Peering through the viewfinder, physically moving the lens, hearing and feeling the shutter snap…the sense of holding something with such artistic creative potential took a firm grip on my heart. Then, we moved to Belize where we were immersed in a new culture and place that looked like a scene from National Geographic at every glance. I tried not to look like a typical white American tourist in this 3rd world country, but it was hard to not photograph everything I saw. That was when the concept of photojournalism hit me. I started trying to tell stories of our experiences with the photos I made. I had no idea what I was doing, but it felt important that I keep doing it.
When we returned home to the US in the fall of 2009, I went to work with my dad doing residential construction. As you may remember, that was when the economy tanked and small businesses all over the country suffered. In January of 2010, my dad had to close his company and find other work for himself which left my wife and I with a choice. Either find new jobs for ourselves or do something with this passion of mine. We decided to take the leap and see what would happen. Janna took on two jobs so I could dedicate my time to studying, learning how to start a business, and more importantly, refining my style of photography. We begged everyone we knew to let us photograph them for free just so we could have something to put into a portfolio. I lived in front of my computer and behind my camera. Little by little, Rhema Images Photography was born. That business is still our primary work today, but I’ve begun to feel limited in it. This new blog is an expression of my desire to grow beyond weddings.
On the morning of my 30th birthday, I was having breakfast with my dad at my favorite coffee shop and we had one of those monumental father-son conversations about life. Here’s a little excerpt from what I journaled later. “I struggle with my own chosen work. I frequently feel like what I do is vain and pointless. I take pictures for a living. Today my dad told me about his memories of me as a baby and as a child and as a teen and as a young adult and now as a young father. He told me that he wishes he had done a better job of creating photographic memories of his kids because now his memory is starting to fail. Just faint mental images. A few here, a few there. More like feelings. Years…decades reduced to blurry moments. Now as I’m writing this I find myself getting really emotional and trying to hide it because I’m in public. Those thoughts suddenly gave so much more purpose to my work.”
THAT is why I do this.
I’d be fooling myself if I thought that I’m really anyone special in this industry. There are many people more talented and more successful than I. That’s not what this is about. This is about a journey that I’m on simply because of the inner drive that this is what I’m supposed to do. I can’t explain why it’s there. I can’t even tell you if there’s anyone else who cares. The point here is to share with others who are on a similar path, the knowledge, experiences and resources that have been most helpful to me since I started this journey. I owe a great deal of gratitude to the people who have offered me advice and instruction in the craft of photography, and it’s in that spirit that I want to share what I have learned with you.
So let’s get started…