NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Gary Fong’s career as a photographer started because he wanted to be fully devoted to God, and decades later he still seeks God daily and walks by faith even after losing his job at the San Francisco Chronicle.
Fong, who was a judge for the Pulitzer Prize in photography and has been widely published, said he was on a path toward civil engineering as a student because he loved drafting and math.
“In 1968 I became a Christian,” Fong, a keynote speaker at this year’s Baptist Press Collegiate Journalism Conference, held Oct. 11-13 in Nashville, Tenn., said. “In 1969, I went to a Bible camp. At the Bible camp I heard the speaker say, ‘Commit your life to the Lord.’ I listened very carefully to what that meant, and it was 100 percent commitment. After a while, I knew there was a big difference between 98 percent committed and 100 percent committed, and I wanted to be 100 percent committed.”
For two weeks Fong repeatedly prayed for God to tell him what He wanted him to do, and he sensed God leading him to be a photographer. At the time, photography was only a hobby and Fong was looking to civil engineering to make a living. He wrestled with the decision and finally agreed to focus on photography because he wanted to obey God.
“I said, ‘Lord, if you are serious, you have to open the doors,'” Fong recounted. “My dad gave me a camera for my graduation present from high school and kind of got me moving in that direction.
“God opened one door after another and closed other doors right after I walked through them. He has been opening doors and closing doors ever since,” he told Baptist Press.
Fong joined the San Francisco Chronicle in 1975 as a staff photographer, and some of his work included the 1980 Mount St. Helens Volcano eruption in Washington state, the Democratic National Convention in 1984, Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco in 1988 and the earthquake in San Francisco in 1989.
He earned the San Francisco Bay Area photographer of the year award five times, the California Press photographer of the year award two times, the San Francisco Press Club picture of the year twice, and numerous awards with the National Press Photographers Association. Fong’s work has appeared in Time, Newsweek and Life magazines as well as the Associated Press, United Press International and The New York Times.
Fong worked his way up to director of photography and then director of editorial graphics technology at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was responsible for the migration from conventional wet, black and white film processing to electronic digital color and wireless transmissions from anywhere in the world.
For a couple of years, Fong had been praying for God to show him the next step in life, and when he was laid off from his job at the Chronicle earlier this year, he recognized God’s hand at work.
“I said, ‘Lord, if You want me to move from the paper, then You have to move me. If You want me to do something else, You have to open the doors.’ And God closed one door and opened another door,” Fong said.
The door God opened was to make another hobby into a full-time job — this time with something Fong founded called Genesis Photo Agency, which is a group of professional photographers who want to elevate the effectiveness of photography in evangelical publications around the world.
Fong had realized Genesis couldn’t support itself while he was working on it only in his spare time, but since God cleared his schedule and enabled him to focus his time on the endeavor, Fong has seen it progress.
“As I started working at it more and more, we started seeing more clients coming to us, more impossible situations that we managed to put together,” he said. “The more that I do it, I’m having the best time at this just because one of the things I want to do for the Lord is use all the talents that He has given me — in photography, in understanding photographs, in communicating with people, in encouraging photographers, in Macintosh technology, in wireless communications, just making things happen, just building upon things.
“All those fit Genesis. All those don’t necessarily fit somewhere else, but they fit Genesis,” Fong said.
Drawing on his worldwide network of contacts, Fong has been able to arrange photo coverage for a project in Thailand about helping prostitutes leave the business, and he most recently organized coverage of a triathlon in Hawaii for Sports Illustrated.
“For the last several months we’ve been watching God provide. Some weeks are really busy and some weeks are quiet,” Fong said.
On one of the quiet days, Fong asked God to provide three new projects for the Genesis team to tackle, and minutes later he received a call from a friend saying she needed him to help with photo coverage in three places — Hong Kong, Korea and Tacoma, Wash.
“One of the verses that God has given me is in Matthew chapter 6 where it talks about the birds of the air and how God takes care of them,” Fong told BP. “They don’t have a house. They don’t farm for food. God provides for them. And how much more that He loves us and will take care of us. I keep coming back to that verse, and I’m seeing these birds just land in front of me.”
God used encounters with a squawking blue jay, a robin and a hummingbird on subsequent days to remind Fong of God’s provision in times of uncertainty.
“I don’t know how long I’m going to go. I don’t know what God has in store for us, but the heart is there,” he said. “The commitment is there, and I’m having the greatest time of my career doing this. Compared to everything else, this is the best. If God provides the plans, we’ll do it. If God doesn’t provide the plans, then I’ll know He has something else for me. …
“All I want to do is serve Him, and if I can serve Him with the talents that He’s given me over the years with the people that He’s introduced me to over the years, I’d love to serve Him,” Fong said.
Jim Veneman, director of visual communication at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., has worked with Fong during Baptist Press journalism conferences and other gatherings of Christian photographers, and he said Fong’s ability to maintain professional relationships is unlike any other he has encountered.
“I talk to my students all the time about relationships and how important they are, and that throughout their career they’re going to rely on relationships,” Veneman said. “Whether it’s with a close friend at work or a peer or subjects, relationships are very critical and you cannot guard those relationships and nurture them enough.”
Anyone who has ever given Fong their e-mail address or phone number finds that he doesn’t neglect relationships, Veneman said.
“Gary, to many people, is like that blue jay because he seems to call at just the right time or e-mail at just the right time and remind you that God loves you and is taking care of you,” Veneman said.
Bill Bangham, another colleague, also noted Fong’s impeccable knack for timing.
“Gary is one of those people that I may not see but a couple of times a year, but we’re in touch with each other through phone calls and e-mail,” Bangham, director of photography at the International Mission Board, told BP. “He’s somebody in the middle of the night calling to say he’s praying for you. It’s often interesting how he has this ability to know when something is going on in your life. You may not have even shared it with anybody, and Gary will call and say, ‘I’ve been thinking about you, brother, and praying for you.'”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press. For more information about Genesis Photo Agency, visit www.genesisphotos.com.