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Photojournalists at yearly gathering buoyed spiritually, professionally

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–People who spend their lives manipulating and capturing light spent a weekend at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary being shaped by the light of Jesus Christ at the annual Southwestern Photojournalism Conference March 24-26.

About 180 photojournalists from across the nation and from as far away as Sweden and Germany participated in the conference, which encouraged them in their walk with Christ and their chosen profession.

“For me, photography and my walk with God go really closely together,” said speaker Denise McGill, photojournalist and journeyman missionary with the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board.

That sentiment was echoed by speakers throughout the weekend.

Dennis Fahringer, director of the photo school at the University of the Nations in Kona, Hawaii, challenged the photographers attending the conference to pursue eternal work.

“Your photos are probably not going to last forever,” Fahringer said. “And the perspective the Lord has given me is that through my interacting with people, I can have an effect for the sake of the kingdom of God that can count for eternity, and that’s something that is lasting beyond my photos.

“I believe very strongly that people will be with Christ or apart from Christ for all eternity,” Fahringer said. “And that’s what matters far more than the images that I can make, let alone getting caught up in ego or what brand of camera I use or how fast is the chip in my computer.

“I’ve been most gratified when I’ve met people who say, ‘Dennis, one of your photos helped me get into missions,'” said Fahringer. “If a life can be changed, if someone can come closer to Christ than they were, or they’re led further in their walk with Christ, then it’s worth it.”

McGill described her struggles as a photojournalist at a small newspaper in Missouri where pride and fear kept her creativity bottled up inside. Three years ago, God began to show her how to refocus on him to re-energize her work.

“I was working harder to get my name on the front page than I was to show my city what God wanted them to see that day,” McGill said. “I was so busy being scared of my boss that I forgot that Jesus is the light of the world, and playing with light, in my opinion, is one of the most intimate experiences that we can have with God.”

As God guided McGill through a time of personal struggles at work, she relied on practical steps to improve her life spiritually, physically and mentally.

McGill gave several steps that believers can take to glorify God in any work situation:

— Spiritually, take time for prayer, fasting and journaling.

— Emotionally and physically, take time to exercise, eat well and sleep well.

— Prepare mentally for work before you go in every day. “Whatever else was going on in my life, [I] put it aside. I’m going to take pictures today,” McGill recounted.

— Get feedback from trusted advisers and others who are further along than you are.

— Make lists of specific areas of weakness in your work and find ways to improve.

— Take major risks on assignments often.

— Concentrate on the task at hand.

— Cut your losses. Don’t worry about being the best at things you are not good at.

A turning point for McGill came at the Southwestern Photojournalism Conference two years ago when she picked up an application to be an IMB journeyman missionary. After being accepted, McGill said she saw God’s plans for her, which were much larger than she imagined.

“Make a list of the stuff that you long to do someday, maybe those longings were put there by your creator, who designed you for just those tasks. Hold on tight, because it might be a really rough ride getting there,” McGill said.

For Randi Anglin, photojournalism is his way to praise God and reflect God’s light to the world, a difficult task in Anglin’s chosen profession.

“Most photojournalists are cynical people, and it’s easy to get brought down to that level rather than lifting light to the world,” Anglin said.

Instead, Anglin suggested focusing on the twofold purpose of every assignment: the one for the publication, the other for God. God’s purpose is best fulfilled when the Christian is doing quality work.

“What glory do we bring to God when we do ordinary work?” Anglin asked.

Jealousy and fascination with the works of other photographers also are constant challenges in photojournalism, Anglin said. The solution, he said, is to do your own work.

“If I did their work, what would they do?” he asked.

“I feel like I’m a lot better photographer than I’m a Christian, and I’m kind of betting on some of you guys feeling like that, too,” said Patrick Murphy-Racey, a photojournalist with photo credits that include Sports Illustrated, ESPN and Sport magazines, as well as several newspapers.

“On the faraway island of Salamason, Yurtle the turtle was king of the pond … ,” began Murphy-Racey, reading from Dr. Seuss’ “Yurtle the Turtle.” He proceeded to tell of his early passion for photography that placed his ego above God.

Murphy-Racey began as a news photographer and later switched to sports photography where he reached what he thought was the pinnacle at “SI” only to be caught in a downsizing effort at Time-Warner, seeing his assignments dwindle. That is when he found God speaking to him.

“Where I thought I was done, the Lord came, and he showed me all kinds of things,” Murphy-Racey said. Mainly, he learned an important lesson about being a Christian. “We’re supposed to be different even in our work.”

Jimi Lott, a photographer with the Seattle Times, told his life story that included an abusive father who left his family and a mother who sank into alcoholism and drug abuse. Lott encouraged the audience by telling of how he allowed God to help him rise above his home life through photography.

“The formula I work by is, ‘Your return will be proportionately equal to your investment,'” Lott said. “Truth has been the battery power that my soul has run on.”

Between speakers, attendees viewed slide presentations and several fortunate ones participated in a digital photo shootout. Arne Hyckenberg, a freelance photographer from Sweden, won the shootout prize, a Nikon Coolpix 950 digital camera.

Joanna Pinneo, a former IMB photographer who has also worked for National Geographic, summed up the feelings many have about the conference during her turn at the podium as a presenter.

“It’s always been a blessing for me to be here and a highlight spiritually for my year,” Pinneo said.

Additional photo posted in the BP Photo Library. Photo title: DIGITAL SHOOTOUT.

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  • Bryan Murley