Into the Jungle: Part II
*Because Vietnam is a closed country, anything pertaining to m!nistry or je$us has been censored to avoid putting our host in danger.
On the morning of January 8th, before catching a plane to Atlanta, GA, I left my camera on my bed, not to be touched for a year. I had no regrets about this, I wasn’t that great of a photographer anyway and I hadn’t even been chosen as a storyteller for my squad… what was the point of bringing it on the World Race with me? So, I threw my yellow polaroid in my bag instead, as well as 11 packs of film, and left for the airport. What I didn’t realize was that, in place of my camera, I had packed something that I didn’t mean to include, and it was way too heavy to be carried around with me for the next 11 months: my self-doubt.
A few years ago, I wouldn't have ever dreamed of going on a trip like this without my camera... I'd even left my laptop with all of my design work, photography and editing software on it. It was a last minute decision that I'd been going back and forth on for months.
I’ve been taking pictures for as long as I can remember. Even those film strip polaroid cameras brought me so much joy as a kid. Given a choice, I’d still have a blast with those now over any other camera, flower borders and all. I remember being chosen as one of the two photojournalists to join my high school newspaper staff as a sophomore. I know, so cool, right? Loving the rush of breezing through the football field security with a quick flash of my press pass, I’d decided that I wanted to be a photojournalist forever. My first position as a sophomore led me to become the layout editor and then editor-in-chief in the coming years. Then, in college as a graphic design major, I started taking pictures for the SNU Athletics department, and then I worked summers taking pictures at Kanakuk Kamps. Taking photos, for me, had been much less of an artistic endeavor and more of a journalistic I-must-capture-this-exact-moment-so-no-one-ever-forgets endeavor. There’s nothing quite like capturing a moment that will never happen again; no preparing or posing, just raw action and emotion. It never occurred to me that one day I would hate photography.
On our first morning in Urlabari, our contact Bipin came and found me. He had found out from someone that I was a graphic designer and photographer before the race, and he wanted me to serve the m!nistry by taking pictures every day in the villages. I told him “yes, I’d love to”, but I was filled with anxiety. I thought I was free from this insecurity for a year, but no. Once again, I was open to the critiques that would tell me that I just wasn’t cut out for this. Let me explain: being critiqued is just a part of being in an artistic field, it just is. It helps you grow as a designer and a photographer. For the most part, I love critiques. In college, it brought me a rush of anxiety and excitement, yearning for both approval and improvement. Unfortunately, the enemy used this anxiety and need for approval as a foothold. He used it to make me insecure and self-critical, and to make avoid picking up a camera for any reason other than professional. I just didn’t love it anymore. I wasn’t good at it anymore. Maybe I was never really good at it.
On the way to the villages, Bipin and I walked next to each other. I started messing with his Sony camera, switching to the manual settings, trying to figure out the confusing menus, and he started asking me about my experience as a photographer. I told him my timeline, from photojournalism to sports photography to advertising. He was fascinated that I had worked in advertising, saying that in Nepal, designers in ad agencies are very highly respected. I wasn’t quite sure how to respond to this, but in the back of my mind, my insecurities whirred around, telling me lies like, “you’re the exception to what he’s saying. You were never really that great,” and “maybe you should just hand the camera to someone else, they’ll be able to serve this m!nistry better than you could.” By the time we got to the small hut where we would be doing m!nistry and worsh!p that day, I almost did hand the camera back to Bipin. I could lie and say something spiritual like “I’m fasting from photography for a year.” But I didn’t, and thank the L0rd.
Over the next few days, I realized why I had come to love photography in the first place. The people and the places were so mesmerizing. I couldn’t take my eyes or my lens off of the village women, especially. They were weathered by the hot sun and the physical labor. While many of the men stood around smoking, the women were carrying huge stalks of whatever they were harvesting on their heads. At the same time, they were cooking and cleaning, all the while with a small child on their hips and several more running around them. The lines around their faces were beautiful and intricate. Their looks went against everything our culture says about beauty, and yet they were still so much more beautiful than even the mountains we had spent so much time around that month. How could anyone hate photography with subjects like these? Subjects that wouldn’t even know how to pose in the first place. In fact, I was constantly running up to every old woman I could find, asking them if I could take their picture. They would bobble their heads, “yes,” and look straight at me, without smiling and without checking out how they looked. Immediately after, I would run to the nearest person, showing them the face of whatever woman I had just snapped a picture of, gushing.
It wasn’t just the village people, it was also the people on my squad whose faces would light up while playing with children or speaking to people who didn’t know J*sus. I captured bright eyes and smiling faces, and looking at my pictures from that week, I can’t find a single false or posed picture.
No, none of these photos will ever be used in a newspaper or advertisement; they will likely only go as far as Facebook pages and World Race blogs, but I’m proud. The L0rd gave me a huge gift that week. I hadn’t ever even told anyone about my insecurities in photography. I’d only told Him that I wasn’t going to be taking pictures anymore. I told Him that when I got back from the race, I would find a job that had nothing to do with photography or design. And you know what? Maybe that’s still true. Maybe I’ll find a job outside of the creative field, or maybe I’ll do exactly what I was doing before the World Race. All I know is that I won’t deny a passion ever again just because I’m not the very best at it, and I won’t deny what the L0rd is telling me to do because of my insecurities. Regardless of the imperfections of the photos that I took that week, I still served the ministry in a very real way, and I can't allow my past experiences and insecurities to devalue that... even when the former ad designer in me is freaking out about shadows and product placements. Why does this photo have a yellow tint only on my blog? - Me, about the photo above.
But hey, the L0rd “qualifies the called,” right? Well, He qualified me that week to capture the beauty that is His beautiful creation, wrinkles and all.
With love from Da Nang, Vietnam