For those who believe in a God, it goes uncontested that there are different ways in which one can experience God. Some find God in quiet moments, others in nature, others in spaces dedicated to him, while others find him in other people and good deeds. What is certain is that if you believe in God, you feel an urge to find him, seek him and adore him. For the believer, we have to agree with St. Augustine when he said "You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you."
The Visible World
Literally speaking, photography can never lead us directly to God. This is because God is a supernatural being - (sopra la natura) - above nature and photography can only grasp elements of this physical world. But, as the 'Laudato Si' teaches us there is a deep connection between God and this world:
The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things.
- Laudato Si, Chapter 233
A question of awareness
Most of the mystics, especially those in the east, always placed a particular emphasis on awareness and living in the moment - being present. Our younger generation, and many times myself included, are often alienated through the various sources of news, chatter and technology. We find our self tired and struggling to find stillness in our daily routines.
Dedicating time to photography can help you improve awareness.
- You begin noting the smile of that child, the facial expression of that lonely elderly, that spiderweb next to the motorcycle, the symmetrical manner in which the two people are standing or walking, and so on;
- You begin observing the changes in nature, which you usually do not take notice of;
- You begin noticing the days as they get shorter or as they get longer, allowing you more time for photographing at the golden hour;
- You begin seeing patterns, symmetries, perfections in the daily life, which would pass unnoticed to the unaware;
- You begin exploring areas and places which you would never have gone to if it where not for your love of photography.
All this noticing and sharpening of the senses may or may not lead to God. In my case, it is a liberation towards a higher purpose when photography is done out of my free will and without any commercial endeavor. I find that my two favorite photographic points of contact with God are landscape and street photography.
In landscape photography, I am confronted with the majesty and beauty of creation, which I try to capture in a shot. My favorite technique when shooting landscapes involves long shutter speeds, just after the sun has set, and this allows me time to sit down and enjoy the view - after that all has been set and the exposure calculated. This stretch of time allows oneself to delve into the setting, literally. When gazed with such beauty the human mind becomes freed of thoughts, and consummated in the present moment.
Contrasting to the 'eternal moments' explained in Landscape photography, Street photography takes us in the instant of the moment. This type of photography seeks to view the everyday and routine moments from a refreshing perspective and in new light. It enables to re-see what we should see daily, but fail to due to our worries and fast-paced full lives. You would be surprised how many moments go unnoticed.
Look at the simple photo below taken in a shopping area. Who know what story does this person hold, what thoughts and worries afflict this person, sitting calmly on that bench.
At times, photography also helped me discover God through the stories of other people. Each person has a different story to tell and many of us are so eager to find someone who is willing to listen, to spend a few moments hearing to their story. I have been conducting a series, whereas I approach some elderly Maltese people and ask them for a shot or two. Some of them just did not want me to leave as we conversed for a few moments. I can say with certitude that these lonely people also lead us to God...
A teological reflection: Father, Son, Spirit Era
As Chapter 4 of the Lumen Gentium tells us, this is the era of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is still working within us and aids us to seek God.
He is the Spirit of Life, a fountain of water springing up to life eternal.(11) To men, dead in sin, the Father gives life through Him, until, in Christ, He brings to life their mortal bodies.(12) The Spirit dwells in the Church and in the hearts of the faithful, as in a temple.(13) In them He prays on their behalf and bears witness to the fact that they are adopted sons.(14) The Church, which the Spirit guides in way of all truth(15) and which He unified in communion and in works of ministry, He both equips and directs with hierarchical and charismatic gifts and adorns with His fruits.(16) By the power of the Gospel He makes the Church keep the freshness of youth. Uninterruptedly He renews it and leads it to perfect union with its Spouse. (3*) The Spirit and the Bride both say to Jesus, the Lord, "Come!"
The Holy Spirit works within and with our human nature, talents and gifts. The vision of a photographer is a gift which is to be worked upon and improved and be given to the community he lives in. Our society needs photographers to show to the world what people are lacking to see. Be it aspects of global warming, the pain and suffering one passes through or the daily life in Japan, photography is also a tool the Spirit can use to dwell with and in us.