I came home Saturday night last week from a reception at my church feeling raw and humbled and seen. They are not feelings I’m used to feeling, especially all at once.
Let me back up and bring you up to speed. One of our three lead pastors, Jeff Mazzariello, and his wife Linda came to me a while back and asked me if I would want to be a part of a project. Linda had been inspired from something she saw in a fashion magazine. A few designers were highlighted in the magazine with their portrait and short bio. She was struck by how engaging the pages were and how different and unique each story was. She could see this translated to the church body. The congregation where she and her husband are so invested.
Linda and Jeff asked if I would be a part of the project by taking portraits of 24 members of the congregation. Different age groups and demographics, to be displayed in the upper lobby of the church. Alongside each persons portrait would be a story of their journey with God. It was a huge ask, both of the people bearing themselves to the church body and me because each portrait would take a significant amount of time to produce.
This question came at a time when Matt and I were talking about our commitment to the church. We had been feeling a bit like outsiders and joining a small group or class didn’t seem like the right move for us at the time. The possibility of being a part of this project was such a sign for me, for us, to become more deeply invested in our experience with Marin Covenant Church.
For me, the task of taking a portrait is introspective. I have a desire not only to make a beautiful photograph that is engaging but to have the person be seen and for who they truly are. There was little hesitation on my end to accept their request. Upon accepting, I immediately called Rick Chapman. He’s an amazing photographer and has taken countless portraits of incredible people. Muhammad Ali, Lebron James, Venus Williams to name a few. He recently returned from a trip to speak about his portraits that are being displayed at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Who better to call right?!
He had me pull together portraits that I liked, that spoke to me, so that I could start to pick them apart to find the common denominators for me to follow. Almost like setting up a recipe. Once I did that he and I spoke while dissecting the images. Shallow depth of field, contrast, the eyes looking right at you, a story within the face. These were the things that I loved and wanted to emulate. We talked about the distance to pull the subject from the background, the importance of consistency, how to play with being in close or pulling back depending on the person. He said creating a body of work is like composing a song or writing a piece of music. In the end, it isn’t just about each note being on key and beautiful but how they all play together. His help has literally been invaluable and I couldn’t have done this project without him. I conceptually had understood the importance of having a mentor but now I truly understood the value.
But the true impact of how the portraits would be received wouldn’t happen until they were hung in the lobby with the stories accompanying them and viewed by people . Last week Saturday night I was able to witness the impact of this project. It was incredible. The Saturday night reception was for anyone involved with the project. It was so important for people to see their photograph and story before the rest of the congregation the following Sunday morning. Many expressed feelings of feeling naked and exposed and appreciated the comfort of seeing them for the first time in a safe environment.
At one point Jeff gathered everyone together to pray and to talk about the experience. Tears were brought to my eyes more than once. It was so humbling to have people share about how transformational the experience of reflecting on their story and being photographed by me was for them. I always pray before each shoot, pray for God to step in and guide my words, my eyes, my finger on the shutter. I pray that the beauty of the person shines through. I pray in gratitude of the experience and opportunity. I heard through the stories people shared that night that my prayers were heard and answered. One woman came to me on her way out and as she hugged me she began weeping tears of gratitude. She cried for the release of shame and bitterness and because she had never enjoyed being photographed in the past but this time, with me, she felt transformed and was able to surrendered to the experience.
The last time I had portraits displayed in a gallery setting like this was over 20 years ago in San Jose during my senior year of college. I may have to see if I can dig out those portraits. I would love to see the beginning of my journey with photography in comparison to where I am now. Those portraits didn’t have text along side of them and I see the power that peoples words lend to an image. I’ve always been drawn to books which combine text and image. There is a depth to a photograph that happens when you read about the image. You are pulled even deeper into the experience. Being able to read the stories of the members of our congregation with their portrait hanging above allows you to find a connection that you may not have seen in the image alone. The power of this is what Linda saw when she first had the concept of this project. After the reception she sent me an email saying that the impact of this event was even bigger than she had imagined.
I’ll share a few of the portraits below but if anyone would like to see the portraits and text on display please come to Marin Covenant Church. Either during the week when the church is open or on a Sunday. We have two services, 9am and 10:45am. I attend the early service and would love to share both my church and this project with you. There are 16 up at the moment but more to come. The goal is to have all 24 up when possible and who knows from there…
What I love most about this whole experience and what brings me to tears as I type this, is how incredible God has been and how He has taken me and led me deeper into Him and into Marin Covenant Church through this project. To think that Matt and I prayed for guidance with finding a church to invest our time and lives into and this is how He answered. Pretty awesome.
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
2 Corinthians 3:18