Today I shared a series of video interviews I created for a project called Call Stories that was commissioned by St. Marks Lutheran Church in Spokane Washington. It is a project that involves me making a portrait and filming an interview of members of the church who are willing to open up about the role faith plays in their daily lives and how it influences their vocation or advocation.
It is a project I have enjoyed doing because it aligns with my skills in photography and film. It was an opportunity to further practice my craft. In particular it gave me an opportunity to create iconic portraits of people. What I mean by this is that I am making portraits that are not all smiling but have a bit of stoic quality to them.
I am inspired by Byzantine religious icons. These icons were intended to allow the viewer direct communication with the sacred. In my work I see the divine in each of us and therefore I see the people I photograph as an opportunity to celebrate their sacred nature. Earlier this week I wrote about the term Namaste that means The light within me honors the light within you. These iconic portraits offer us an opportunity to connect with the inner spirit of the person I have photographed.
I was inspired to create this kind of imagery based upon reading an essay by the french literary critic Roland Barthes. In his book of essays titled Camera Lucida, Barthes describes looking for a photograph of his recently deceased mother that would represent as close as possible her essence and spirit. After looking at hundreds of photos he finally settled on to an old Daguerreotype of his mother. He describes the calmness of the image that was a result of the need to sit still during the exposure that might last 30 seconds to two minutes. In that extended period of time the person being photograph would have to compose themselves and gather their full selves together.
I think Barthes is correct. When I slow down and ask someone to just sit for an extended moment I can watch their weight shift as they find their equilibrium. I can see their facial muscles relax as they collect their thoughts and settle in. The process of making this kind of portrait empowers the person being photograph to turn inward and reveal themselves in a way that most candid photos don’t allow for. So often in today’s world of social media the photograph is made for spectacle. In these photos I am trying to make the photograph introspective and a celebration of human spirit.
I was asked to present my latest work today with a sample of the video interviews. As I described the process of filming the interviews I was reminded of my personal goal as a creative which is to show the familiar in a new and interesting way. To demonstrate this I shared the interview I did of our recently retired pastor Kate Le Pard. She had been a ordained Lutheran pastor for 33 years and everyone in the congregation knows her. I had known her for the last 10 years when she joined St. Marks. However the interview revealed facets of her life story that were completely new and spoke to the deepest levels of her existence. I was so honored to have earned her trust for her share with me her story.
I believe a good documentary interview can reveal new epiphanies about a person’s life and further reinforce what they already know about themselves. The conversations take on an iconic quality to them in the way they ask the person to compose themselves and self reflect on the course of action their life has taken up until the point where they are sitting in front of my cinema camera.
Ultimately my greatest joy in working on this project has been the connection with people. I opened my presentation by announcing, “While there are some people who may think I come here for the sermons it isn’t. I have been a member of St. Marks Lutheran Church for 25 years because of the community of people here.”
My intention with this work is to increase the importance of the words, “hello, how are you?” which we speak each week in the narthex before and after service. When you really know who someone is as a human being, asking about their wellbeing feels so much more sincere.
Here is a sample of some of the interviews:
If you would like to view any of the full interviews you can see them here.
I hope you had an uplifting Sunday.