Of course, not every day is one for being immersed in photography, which is kind of what I felt I would need in order to take the first exposures in my new direction (see “A New Beginning”). Yesterday, I had in my mind that I would leave my family at home and explore some opportunities in Juneau’s large and blooming fireweed fields. I also had some specific concepts to work on that had come to mind during recent Bible studies, but the weather did not cooperate. It was too sunny.
The growing sunshine attracted Breea’s attention, and even though Della expressed her desire to sit on the couch all morning while I tried to drop some subtle hints about my plan, she was determined to have her family act like a family. To my credit, I did ACT like that was fine with me, but I was still harboring some disappointment. When we arrived at the wetlands, I took off on my own to attempt some compositions that proved impossible do to the great height of the flowers. Thought I forced the issue for a while, guilt eventually brought me back to Della’s side (even though Breea said I need not have felt any).
Della had already made herself at home – almost literally. She loves to pretend that natural places are her “home” and designate various spots as specific rooms. During the time I was following her around with the camera, she directed her mom to a space in the grass, which was the bathroom.
“That’s the one for boys, and that’s the one for girls. The toilets don’t have any flushers…they’re automatic.”
I started to feel embarrassed that I had hoped to avoid being a part of this outing, even though I later admitted my prior agenda to Breea. In the end, Della and I were as unwilling to leave the fireweed as we had been to been to leave the house. Reviewing the images after uploading, I could hardly believe I nearly missed this chance. Without the extra time that I’ve spent recently reading and praying about following God’s direction, I think I probably would have gone down the wrong path, following what I thought was best for me.
I don’t have much practice with “photo essays”, but the collection of images from Della’s adventure are pretty fun to view as a group. I hope you enjoy them.
It’s difficult for me to put into words the purpose I desire for my photography – the desire I believe God has put in me. There is an obvious connection between viewing the complex beauty of the natural world and gaining understanding or appreciation for its Creator, but I’m reaching for something more than that. Perhaps I want more because other photographers who produce brilliant artwork have proven that it’s likely, in the culture of our day, that a person with a perceptive eye may have their spirit stirred by the same landscape that stirs mine while rejecting the God that I know.
Putting into practice this kind of photography is far greater a challenge than simply being able to describe the goal. The presentation is a threshold that can only be crossed after the images have been made. I’m faced with the question of whether or not I’m even capable of such a product – photographs that work to illuminate God’s character or illustrate biblical redemption. I’m certainly not beyond questioning whether I’m reaching a bit too far or whether I’ve assumed myself ready for a task for which I am not yet equipped.
One way or another, I feel myself led toward something – some kind of change from the focus my photography has had in the past. Believing God has called us to be transformed in every facet of our lives, I want to be a different artist than I would be without the saving grace of Jesus. The differentness is not an end to itself, but rather a means by which to bring Him glory. To be meaningful, real, and hopefully noticeable; the change has got to be focused at the center of what an artist is all about.
Throughout the ranks of photographic artists (and probably other artists as well) you’ll hear the discussion of developing one’s personal vision. The idea is for the individual to express, ever more clearly, the perceptions that are unique to them as a result of their experiences, longings, and nature. The photographer is supposed to recognize and nurture his or her “own way of seeing” in the same way humankind has always tended to encourage being “true to yourself”. No doubt, my visual interpretation of the world (even my predisposition to nature photography as a genre) has been shaped and molded in a unique way by a variety of factors, and I assumed there was some good being done by my attempts to share with others the way I see what I see.
But what about the way I’m supposed to see? Using the word “supposed” probably elicits all types of red flags for artists who feel strongly that there is nothing more detrimental (even deadly) to creative acts than externally imposed restrictions. The reason I feel differently is that I have experienced the liberation that God’s guidance and even boundaries have brought into other areas of my life. I also know that God does not use a uniform mold to force me into some other person’s shape. Instead, He alone (as my Maker) knows that for which I was designed – recalibrating my focus from time to time in order to blur distractions, the chief of which is the misperception that my artwork should be primarily about me.
Truthfully, the reason I don’t know how God will direct my vision is that I haven’t been in the practice of asking. The combination of the way creative outlets are caught up in the concept of self-expression and my own tendency to look no further than myself for answers made this omission all too easy. As I now work to bring my purpose in line with God’s purpose, it may be that the most I can hope to share is a personal progression of knowing Him more – through as much narrative as photographic imagery. On the other hand, God may choose to work through me in ways I haven’t even the capacity to imagine.
“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” – Romans 1:20
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” – Psalm 19:1
The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center was a treat for the whole family during our Anchorage trip, and for a photographer, it’s a pretty sweet alternative to a zoo. While there’s no question that it lacks that extra ingredient that comes from meeting a wild animal in its own world, the usual disappointment associated with photographing captive animals is offset by some of the stories about how/why the animals came to be at the center. These two orphaned Kodiak brown bears would normally have been left for nature to take its course (the Kodiak bear population is healthy). Instead they are being prepared for transfer to a brand new exhibit in Sweden designed especially for them. I employed extensive cropping and some cloning to hide the distracting metal-shielded tree trunks of the enclosure.
This enormous vista was my reward for getting up to drive the remaining stretch of the Glenn Highway (to Glennallen) on less than three hours of sleep. In other words, I was the proverbial “early bird”. I stopped at a dirt lot on the side of the Richardson Highway (maybe 9 miles north of the Wrangell-St. Elias NP visitor’s center) that allowed access to a bluff overlooking the northeast part of the park. Portions of the four most prominent peaks in the Wrangell Range are visible in the photo, which really requires one to understand a little about what she or he is looking at to fully appreciate it.
Say what you will about Anchorage (its un-Alaskan metropolitan qualities), it is undeniably one of the greatest gateways to wilderness in the entire world. Though I wouldn’t recommend it as such, Denali National Park can be a day trip from the city, and I believe that speaks volumes. Breea, Della, and I just got back from visiting my parents who moved to Anchorage earlier this year, and for at least a couple of us the adventures served primarily to induce a longing for the next round. The scenic highlights for me in the last week were the various views deep into the heart of the Chugach Range, where heavy snowfall gives the mountains the appearance of being rivals to peaks double their size.
On Sunday evening, Breea and I took off for an overnight along the Glenn Highway. The lingering light of Alaskan summer evenings (especially the farther west you get) makes getting a late start feel pretty much the same as getting an early start, and by the time we made it to the Sheep Mountain Lodge, there was still plenty of time for a walk and camp-stove dinner. Spending the night in the bunkhouse (with a room to ourselves) made it possible for me to get up in time for a pre-dawn trip to Glennallen, but the best hours of our outing were the ones we spent on a Forest Service trail at the Matanuska Glacier overlook area.
I’ve never been in an aspen forest before (at least in my working memory), and it was a thrill to be walking between all the beautiful, clean trunks. Breea an I stopped to read all the corny informational signs along the loop trail, and she even helped me get a couple running photos despite feeling silly. On the way back to Anchorage, we squeezed in one more stop and still made it there in time to put Della down for her nap.