With my Bible belt upbringing and devout practice of Christianity, the Christian church is a place I am very familiar with. Because of that, I can’t speak on my initial experience at a Christian church (I don’t even remember it!), but I can speak about what it was like to photograph in a Christian church.
Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of visiting several different denominations within the Christian church: Presbyterian, Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, Lutheran and Non-denominational to name a few. I wound up photographing at my church, a non-denominational church with Calvary Capel associations. It is an extremely diverse church, with a congregation from all over the world, and it is very mission-oriented and community-oriented. We meet in a converted old factory in West Philadelphia – the walls are brightly colored and mismatched and the building is basically one long, narrow hallway that leads to the main sanctuary with rooms boarding it on every side. (The Ansel Adams prints lining part of the hallway are a nice touch that is much appreciated by this photographer ;))
The first day I planned on photographing at my church, I brought my camera into the sanctuary on Sunday morning and sat with it until the morning sermon had ended. Once people started leaving the building and moving on with their days, I approached some of the church leaders and asked if I could take some photos. I found it pretty difficult to photograph these people because I already knew them. I find it a lot easier to photograph strangers or acquaintances – I feel more at ease directing them and picturing them as part of the image I’m crafting. It took multiple days of shooting at my church, but I eventually got some images I was really happy with.
Isn’t it interesting how we can change the way we photograph depending on how well we know the people? I know photographers who only photograph their friends and family, but when I put them in front of the camera, I freeze up. Maybe it’s because I’m more self-conscious in front of people I’m close to – I feel like I have less authority when photographing them because they know me as a friend before an artist. Maybe it’s because I care more about what they think of me than I do about stranger’s opinions. I don’t want to have to face them later if the images didn’t turn out as great.
My church was very open to me photographing; they were always kind and willing when I asked. The Christian life is one built on love and hospitality, and that was definitely what I felt as I photographed Christians and it’s how I continue to feel as I attend church and grow in this community of believers. The thing that most set Christianity apart from all the other religions I experienced was: their love for the world and desire to see widespread salvation. They are dedicated to diversity and to preaching an open gospel. Christians are excited to spread the good news that everyone has access to Jesus! There is no level of goodness or righteousness that must be achieved and no amount of meditation or scripture memorization will make them more Christian than another believer. There is something so beautiful in that openness. This faith is not restricted to one culture or income – it is a hope for all.