How the Bible Made Me Rethink Photography

Let me begin with this: I like art. Like most people, I took up photography because I enjoyed taking pictures of my friends or things I found interesting. It became an outlet of creativity for me and a way of documenting memories. By the time I entered college, it had even turned into a small side income.

When I started studying the Bible, I had no idea how much my theology would affect the way that I thought about photography. Could photography become idolatrous? When I looked through my camera lens, what was the end game of clicking that button? I found myself struggling with even more ethical dilemmas when I began capturing images in the third world. Is it permissible to take photos of people without their consent? Does it benefit this nameless child when I take his picture? Standing in the midst of abject poverty, are my thoughts really on the aesthetics of color and lighting?

The devastation of people’s suffering is softened when you’re thinking about how to best frame it in a lens. In reality, no frame will do, because the scene shouldn’t exist.

There’s something about putting a lens between yourself and other people that somehow lessens the impact. The devastation of people’s suffering is softened when you’re thinking about how to best frame it in a lens. In reality, no frame will do, because the scene shouldn’t exist. These tensions have caused me to put my camera down for different seasons of my life. I don’t ever want to approach something that I do mindlessly, without considering what the Bible has to say about it.

And while the Bible was written thousands of years before the first photograph was ever produced, it certainly has things to say about images. Here’s what I’ve found. Photography is a tool. It can be used for good or for evil. Before I take a photograph, I find myself asking some questions. What am I going to do with this photo? Is it going to serve people? Make them aware of some issue? Inspire or encourage them? Help to tell a story that is true? If I can’t answer yes to these questions, I don’t take the picture. From a humbled position, I want to offer God the work of my hands and allow him to use it; not let the work of my hands becoming something that I devote myself to in and of itself (Psalm 90). In a culture that has become image-obsessed, I want to ensure that the images I take aren’t just adding to the noise, but rather telling stories that matter.

Rosemary Sherrod met Ram Rakhi two years ago while interviewing various women about their experiences with childbirth. When she began sharing her breadth of stories and experiences, it was undeniable that her story needed to be shared.

Rosemary Sherrod met Ram Rakhi two years ago while interviewing various women about their experiences with childbirth. When she began sharing her breadth of stories and experiences, it was undeniable that her story needed to be shared.

On a recent trip to India, I had the great privilege of documenting the story of Ram Rakhi, a rural village midwife. She represents a dying occupation of those who have faithfully served women for centuries, but whose stories have largely gone untold. In one interview, she told us, “I tell you all these things so others can know what I know.” She wants to pass along the knowledge that she has gained from a lifetime of service. Our hope for this documentary is that it will be an avenue for her to do so.

Ram Rakhi is not well paid for her work, and her home reflects her desperate position. She lives in a dimly lit home less than 200 square foot-- with six other family members. 

Ram Rakhi is not well paid for her work, and her home reflects her desperate position. She lives in a dimly lit home less than 200 square foot-- with six other family members. 

But she needs more than her story told; she needs a house. Ram Rakhi lives in a home that she describes as, “…a hut made of a tin roof,” and she is right. She lives in a less than 200 sq foot space with six other family members. In response, our organization has committed to help build her a house. This aspect of connecting media to tangible change is imperative for me. It’s simply not enough to take pictures or make a documentary of someone’s life. Spreading awareness is great, but if there’s not concrete action on the other side of that awareness, something has gone wrong.

I would have never made these considerations had I not learned the Bible. And while I don’t claim to be an expert in media or biblical studies, I do think the combination of these skills has made me a compassionate photographer and videographer. And I’m thankful for the opportunity to tell better stories  - stories that serve a purpose, that give voice to those who have been denied one in this world.

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”
— Proverbs 31:8
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If you would like to learn more about Ram Rakhi and support the construction of a safe home for her, please click the link below.