I’ve learned more about photography from Jesus Christ than from the great luminaries of the craft. Photographers like Ansel Adams, the famed landscape artist whose stark black and white photographs captured the stunning beauty of the American West.
By any stretch of the imagination, I probably come off sounding like some camera-toting religious fanatic or spiritual zealot for saying that. But believe me, I’m not. I am a documentary photographer. But taking to the streets of cities like Bogota has helped me understand the beauty of Christ’s ministry.
Jesus walked among the poor, the broken, and the lost, preaching about a Kingdom that he said was at hand. In his sermons, Christ made the mundane become majestic, whether he was speaking about sparrows or mustard seeds or lilies. Jesus used the chiaroscuro of words to create his images. His parables and preaching show that.
His mercy and compassion for the downtrodden and lost are stunning: the woman caught in adultery; the thief dying on the cross; the marginalized lepers and blind he ministered to. Christ looked beyond the apparent grime of life. His eye could see what others did not. That’s what I try to do with the camera lens.
I typically use fixed lens (often a 35mm or 85mm) when I’m on the street. That means I must “focus with my feet” if I want a close-up shot. That forced intimacy with the camera has helped me to get to know some of the people I’ve photographed. And over the years, I’ve met and photographed hundreds of them.
It was faith, and more importantly, Christ’s example, that inspired to look at some of these people for an impromptu portrait. As I said, Christ cared about the details, the granular. And I try to do that too.
Here are some of the portraits I’ve taken over the past year. They were made in Mexico, London and Houston, among other places.
I hope you can see the story in the wrinkles of an old woman’s face. I met in her in Mexico where she was making tortillas on a street corner.
In one of the photos, behind a veil cigarette smoke, you can see a laughing glint in one subject’s eye.
In fact, London-based Lucca chuckled when I asked if I could take his picture. “My father was a photographer,” he told me. “No one has asked me for a picture in years.”
These photos have their own stories, their own narratives.
I hope you give ear—and heart—to what they say.
Christ taught me that.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
Tom Darin Liskey Features Editor for Literary Life