Haiti and Hurricane Matthew

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The small and impoverished nation of Haiti has just experienced the punishing winds and rain of Hurricane Matthew. As I write this article, we do not yet know what the cost of the storm is in human lives lost, buildings destroyed, and roads that have become impassible.

Following the 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010, I had the privilege of going there on two occasions as a representative of my spiritual family, the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey. We distributed some $200,000 in aid in partnership with the Haitian Baptist Convention. And of course, I brought my camera.

This picture of the nation’s capitol building symbolized the state of affairs on a national level:

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However, the real cost was in human lives lost and the impoverishment of a people already living at an economic level that is among the lowest in the Western Hemisphere. These shots illustrate the enduring dignity and aspirations of the Haitian people.

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This abstract photo of rebar on a building that was never completed memorializes the issues facing the Haitian people. Will they ever finish rebuilding their lives? Is there hope for the future, or will despair reign?

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If you would like to donate to ABCNJ’s efforts to aid the Haitian people following hurricane Matthew, please go to our ABCNJ.net.

If you would like to see my full collection of Haiti photos, click Haiti 2010 and Haiti 2011.

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Second Looks

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In both photography in particular and life in general, it is tempting to become satisfied with a superficial understanding of a subject, issue, controversy or sight. We encounter something briefly, consider its message rapidly, and move on to other experiences, deludedly content that we have mastered its meaning or captured the scene in the best possible way.

Photographers commit this error all the time. We are attracted to a scenic vista, a photogenic person, or a beautiful abstracted pattern and we capture the image before us with varying degrees of technical skill. Sometimes, that’s all we can do. But often, if we slow down, reflect on what is before us, and consider seriously what the scene symbolizes and seeks to communicate, we can gain new insights and on occasion even some unexpected wisdom, and then hopefully take a photograph that provides a novel perspective, a more pure form of beauty, or a greater depth of meaning.

We need to take a second look.

Sometimes, the second look may take place after some time has elapsed. We return to a place we have visited and improve on the first photographic effort. For example, these two images of the well known woman in a wet suit in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, are separated by several years. Both images are popular on my Flickr site, but I feel the second one is purer and more beautiful.

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When we return to a location repeatedly, we can focus on compelling images that may not be revealed during an initial visit. Hidden beauty is revealed. It may just be that the ambient light is different, or something in the setting has changed, or the angle chosen suggests a new perspective.

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In my book on Christian spirituality, Endless Possibilities, spiritual journeys are portrayed as spirals, and I enjoy capturing images of spirals wherever I travel. The first image is from a 2015 visit to Amsterdam, and it symbolizes the totality of an individual’s journey. Returning to Amsterdam in September 2016, I found this second wrought iron spiral. The reflections cast one’s individual journey into a more complex set of relationships. The reflected spirals may suggest a person’s related journeys, past or present. Or, they may represent the truth that our individual journeys are lived out within the context of the journeys of others.

The discipline of second looks should be a part of our photographic technique. It may also benefit our spiritual and intellectual lives as well. We should never be content to see something once, or to reflect upon any subject in a lazy and superficial manner. There is always something novel to see, even in a familiar site. And there is always something new we can learn, if we are open to growth and take the time to reconsider what we think we already know.

Amsterdam and the Holocaust

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How can photography serve to deepen our awareness of the Holocaust?

On September 6, 2016, I was privileged to receive my PhD in Theology from the Vrije University in Amsterdam. Under the mentorship of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre, I focused on how Baptists in the United States responded to Nazi Anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. In anticipation of speaking on this topic in the future, I have been taking a series of photographs documenting the Holocaust in various locations. Amsterdam offers many opportunities, if one only takes the time to visit the Jewish Quarter.

The easiest way to make contemporary images related to the Holocaust is to visit memorials. In January 2015, I spent an hour in solitary contemplation in memory of the thousands transported to concentration camps, at the outdoor Auschwitz Memorial. Earlier in the day, dignitaries and no doubt a  crowd were there for a ceremony, but the darkness of night reflected my contemplative attitude more fittingly.

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A less direct approach entails trying to capture the emotion of the horror, in a symbolic form. Hidden on a post off of Max Euweplein is this evocative memorial to those who were forced to leave the Netherlands under Nazi persecution.

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A third commemorative response is to affirm the positive life of the Jewish community that pre-dated the Nazi era. Amsterdam was home to over 100,000 Jews. On my most recent visit, I captured this detail of a painting at the Jewish Historical Museum, which celebrates the vibrancy of the Jewish marketplace:

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And of course, there is the spirituality of Judaism, as expressed in the synagogue:

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But in the end, one cannot escape the horror of the Shoah. These two paintings express it so very well. The first depicts the Nazi vultures greedily gazing down on condemned Jewish families.

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The next uses the image of fire to depict the attacks against Jewish life and community existence:

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Every human being matters, because we all share that spark of spirit called the human soul. We are of infinite worth, and thus must mourn the loss of every person who unjustly dies because of prejudice, hate, anti-Semitism and racial bigotry. At its most basic level, the Holocaust is about each individual and family and their journey either toward death or survival. Jeroen Krabbé honored the memory of his father, who died in the Sobibor concentration camp after being heard with other Jews for transport from Westerbrook in June 1943.

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At Sobibor, geese were brought in to drown out the screams of Jews forced into the crematoria:

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Let us never be tempted to permit noise to obscure the pain and suffering evil political and social movements inflict on others. Even in the 21st century, for example, anti-Semitism finds expression in various ways, and we must oppose it wherever it gains a voice.

In Support of Ministries

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One of the joys of being a photographer is having one’s photos used by organizations and causes that are in harmony with one’s own values and principles.

Yesterday, the Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries uploaded one of my shots to their new web site home page. This movement originated from with my denomination, the American Baptist Churches USA, but now ministers to people of all Christian traditions. Each summer, their national conference takes place at the Green Lake Conference Center, and I have attended both as a board members and speaker. They needed a meaningful picture of the Center, and I was most pleased they felt led to use this one:

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I am also quite open to offering my photos in the service of secular and non-partisan political causes. For example, several years ago the following photograph from Kampala, Uganda, was used by the World Bank in an anti-corruption campaign focused on Africa:

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And finally, the International Museum of Women included this photograph from Egypt as part of its “Women, Money and the Global Economy” project in 2009:

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A photograph has the power to encourage people spiritually, to critique unjust social and political structures, and to inspire others to imagine and work for a more positive future.

Remembering 9/11

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On the fifteenth anniversary of the attacks on 9/11 in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia,  the question of how to remember the events of that infamous day is most appropriate.

Remembering is a spiritual discipline in the Bible: “Remember the Sabbath by keeping it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Remembering also applies to history, and especially to difficult experiences in one’s past: “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore, the LORD your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day” (Deuteronomy 5:15). In the New Testament, Jesus commanded his disciples to remember his death on the Cross when we take communion: “Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).

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How should we remember 9/11? Many people do so by visiting the 9/11 Memorial on the site of the two World Trade Towers that fell. I have been there many times, especially when friends ask me to take them into Manhattan. I confess that I usually am saddened when I am there, and not solely due to the pain of remembering those who lost their lives. Indeed, I have been most perturbed by the crowds, who often treat the experience as just another tourist stop. Shedding somberness, selfies are taken by people who laugh and run across the complex.

In my photographic attempt to remember and pay tribute those who are lost, I therefore try to ignore the crowds. One way is to get in close to the memorial:

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Another way is less direct. The two pools symbolize the footprints of the towers and the water flowing down into the abyss the senselessness of the deaths of so many innocent lives. The rainbow is a symbol of hope in the midst of disaster, and so this shot not only acknowledges the pain of the past, but the anticipation that something positive can be hoped for in the future:

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But I feel that it is best to get off-site and document other tributes in memory of those who lost their lives on 9/11. This photograph was taken at the lesser known Liberty State Park 9/11 Memorial from across the river in New Jersey. The bright light streaks (sun reflections) remind me of the missing Towers and people in a contrasting way to the dark pools.

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A few years ago, in Greenwich Village, I came across a small 9/11 memorial in which painted tiles were attached to a fence. These small memorials, created by children and adults, powerfully evoked emotions I felt, even years after the attacks.

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The United States was not alone in feeling the pain of 9/11. People worldwide expressed solidarity and support. I was surprised to find this memorial in Padova, a small city just outside of Venice:

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To remember is to care, to reflect is to honor, and to recall is to reaffirm the infinite worth and value of every human life and soul.

Welcome to LBSimages!

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Welcome to LBSimages, my personal blog devoted to exploring the potential of photography as a spiritual discipline. Spirituality involves appreciating the beauty of the world and all that is in it, and for me at least, I credit this beauty to God as creator of the universe. Furthermore, photography may express one’s ethical, moral, social, political, philosophical and aesthetic perspectives, and all of these considerations have a valuable role to play in the cultivation of a positive and creative spiritual life.

Although I personally pursue photography as a committed follower of Jesus Christ (yes, I am a Christian), I believe that photography as a spiritual discipline can be adopted by people of all faiths, and for that matter, by people who have no faith or or simply seeking. Like wisdom, the pursuit and appreciation of beauty belongs to all humanity, regardless of culture or faith perspective.

From a Christian perspective, spirituality may be expressed on two levels. First, we exhibit faith by embracing the journeys God calls us to live out so that we may mature personally as well as impact our world for good. We are called to a life of personal spiritual growth and faithfulness in service for the benefit of society. As we live out these journeys, we are also called into relationships of all kinds – family, friendships, marriage, work acquaintances, etc. Our lives are infinitely enriched by the relationships we experience, and it is no wonder that the photographs we take are so often of people we love and care for, or of strangers that for some reason attract us.

Second, we express spirituality through spiritual disciplines that sharpen our insight and provide us with the inner resources to draw closer to God and others. Historically, Christians (and others) employed disciplines like spoken prayer, the reading of Scripture, silence, solitude, communal singing and journaling to experience the presence of God and to cultivate love for humanity, and in my own life, I make use all of the above.

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St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Glendale, CA (1979)

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Wood Totem, Big Bear Lake, CA (1979)

I first picked up a camera when I was in high school (yes, in the days before digital photography!), and my early cameras included a Mamiya-Sekor, a Konica TC and a Nikon FE. In those days, I gravitated to slide photography, and still still have about 5,000 images. As a digital photographer, I currently use a Nikon D610 full frame camera.

While in seminary, I first considered the possibility that photography could be used to express one’s religious devotion and spirituality. For several decades, that involved documenting church activities, mission trips, social and political movements I was involved in, and other activities that related to my faith and also to my calling as a pastor. Expressing my interior feelings, emotions and world-view in a creative fashion were secondary pursuits.

That all changed with my sabbatical to Israel in 2001, when I began using digital photography to create a visual library of personal spiritual intuitions, insights and meditations about God, humanity, life and social issues – not in response to a specific activity or event, but as an expression of my regular interior dialogue with God and ongoing fascination with the complex yet wonderful world we live in.

Before long, it became apparent to me that photography not only could chronicle my understanding of the mysteries that surround us all, but it could also facilitate and expand that growth. A soul produces a photograph, but the photograph has the capacity to speak back to one’s heart. A photo can reveal what is in the spirit of a person, and it may also speak something surprising and novel to the photographer. Sometimes I know why I take a photograph as I click the shutter; at other times, I do not fully understand the meaning of the scene I felt led to capture until after the shot is taken and reviewed. Accordingly, the camera and its photographs may rise to the level of conversation partner, sharing in a complex web that includes the photographer, God and the world around us.

For several years, I have placed over two thousand of my photos on my Flickr page. Often friends respond by asking, “What made you capture that image?’ or “What is the meaning of the photo from your vantage point?” In this blog, I intend to share the meaning behind my favorite photographs. I hope that these meditations might increase the reader’s enjoyment of my favorite images, and encourage you to explore the potential of photography as a spiritual discipline.