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A Photographers Confessional & Journey

Most recent Photo shoot at Longwood Garden in Kennet Square, PA. 
I challenged myself to shoot with one lens and at one aperture the entire 
day (50mm / f/1.8). It forced me to partner my strengths in composition 
with a weakness in technical skills, specifically focusing, to work together.
I never really intended to become a photographer. Yes, you heard me right. It was always something that was there...a part of my life that came back again and again. I really believe it's a God-thing, a calling, something that He has drawn me back to over and over until I fully embraced it. I have always gravitated towards art and graphic design because it was something I was good at. Photography in my mind was a tool in that process, that if needed I could produce it. But there is something about this medium that is compelling. Perhaps it's the story-telling aspect or the moments of reality frozen for all time or the ability to capture beauty and make it art. But what really excites me is the combination of all of the above simultaneously. I have often said that I have a photo-graphic memory...if I took a picture of it, then I remember it. But what is more revealing is the truth of the moment and searching for these slices of time that reveal something about ourselves and who God says that we are. 

I was ten when I began to make my own photos. My siblings,
our pets and landscapes became my first subjects.
My journey into photography began with a 110 film Camera when I was ten years old. My first photos were of a trip to DC and Colonial Williamsburg. Of course the off-center view-finder meant that all my photos were not exactly compositional masterpieces. Around that same time I began to draw. I am not sure that I knew being a photographer was a possible career choice yet but being an artist was since my great uncle worked as a commercial artist (as it was called in those days). Also during that time my grandmother had a series of optical illusion photos that I became fascinated with, which led to experiments with my siblings around the yard.

I went to a vocational high school. In those days I really didn't have any ambitions of going to college. To be honest I did not know if I was even smart enough, I really had no sense of self except that I knew I could draw. I naturally gravitated towards the Commercial Art program. I did well. In fact when I made the National Honor Society I was shocked. I suddenly realized I might have what it takes. I also found that I could also write when I was one of three chosen to write for a local newspaper. But what really got me going was one of the Commercial Art teachers who simply said, "Why don't you do something?" You see I was the kid who quietly sat on the sidelines, always watching but never participating. These simple words where the motivation I needed and so the remaining two School years I was involved in everything--sports, committees, and yearbook. Photography was a part of the Commercial Art curriculum so I learned to shoot and develop film, but it was light painting and using long exposures at night that hooked me. When I graduated I used all my gift money to buy a 35mm SLR Minolta camera, which I used quite regularly when I could afford film and developing.

The remaining evidence of a Senior Show. It was 
the  mid '80s as you tell by the hair and clothing.
The pieces included design, photography, 
drawing, watercolor and mixed media.
College: I was given the following choice regarding college, go to an A/G school or stay home and commute. While some of the top art schools were within commuting distance of the small New England town I called home I also had a bold adventurous streak despite my quiet demeanor. I am definitely a wanderer, prone to travel thanks in part to my grandparents who took my siblings and I often on their travels throughout the US. The only A/G school at the time that had an art program was located in the mid-west and I wanted to stretch my wings so off to Missouri I went. I majored in Art, specifically Graphic Design. These were still pre-Macintosh computer days although the computer lab did have one of the first models in the corner, but no one knew what to do with it at the time. I actually owned a typewriter and all my designs were hand-drawn or painted. I spent hours mixing colors, making samples, waxing type to boards, using a lot of art supplies in the process. It was a time of definite growth, being on my own, learning who I was and what I wanted to do with my life. I had two photography classes in the process and often shot for the school yearbook since I was a part of the design staff. It was there that I learned to incorporate elements of design into my photo compositions, but also where I was first exposed to photojournalism.

After graduating I spread my wings to Brussels, Belgium. It was there that I started to heed of the call that photography may have on my life. I worked in the art department of missions organization. Thanks in part to a very innovative department head they invested in the new technolgies of desktop publishing where I quickly learned the basics. Living in Europe meant we spent our free-time traveling throughout the countries by train or car. My camera was my constant companion on these trips. Many times I was called upon to shoot images for the job as well. It was one day in the video studio struggling with the lights trying to take some product shots when I realized I may need further training in this medium. During the course of these two years God began to quietly speak to me. 

Left: Caught in action in London, England during the late
'80s, Center: Bio photo for my editorial column in my graduate 
school magazine in the early '90s. Right: Hard at work doing
layout and design for a piece called Great Questions of Life
just outside Brussels Belgium, 1988.
One time in particular I remember him saying that my camera would open doors that the title missionary could not. It wasn't an audible voice just a still small voice within that I knew was not my own. I did not know what that meant but I knew I better start really learning how to use photography equipment. A brochure began to circulate the department for one such program, ironically this was not the regular type of material that we passed around but it caught my attention. It was for a masters degree in photojournalism at a University back in the US. I had no intention of going back to school but now I was being compelled by this calling that I could not explain. So I applied. I had to see what doors my camera could open.
A collection of images from Grad school. As you can see my
subject matter included more portraits and storytelling images.

Grad school was the toughest thing I have ever done. Not so much the class work but juggling three part-time jobs on top of the full-time class load. My jobs however were all on campus and helped to further my education: photography graduate assistant, Magazine design editor and later editor, as well as graphics freelancer for the marketing department. My classes were small but tough. The photography professor was a former newspaper photojournalist. I was fascinated by her experiences and technical knowledge. I was a sponge and soaked it all in. I shot for every publication on campus and even volunteered as the still photographer for several student films.

Publishing World. 
However, after completing my degree it was the publishing world that drew me in. I worked for a large business magazine publisher both on the marketing and editorial side eventually moving up to art director for a couple of magazines. I also ventured out as a freelancer. Whenever necessary I would pull-out my camera and shoot any image that I could not get via the regular means. One time during a trade-show in Las Vegas the publisher forgot to hire a photographer for the first day of industry seminars. I always traveled with my camera and instantly volunteered. From that point onward I always photographed the first day in addition to my design duties of this yearly event. During this time I also got my first digital camera, a Canon 10D. Digital really revolutionized the way I shot and even thought about photography. Gone were the hours in the darkroom and the cost of film. I was shooting more and learning from my technical mistakes now that I could see what was happening and could properly evaluate the cause.

Some children following the van (Kombie) to the end of the 
street in Limpopo Provence, South Africa. One of thousands 
of stories told on one three week media trip, which always 
included a little ministry, planned and unplanned.
Missions Part 2: I knew that one day I would do another missions assignment. A lot of things led to this new journey however suffice it to say I made a three-year commitment to an International organization that had me traveling all over the world and using my camera the way I should have been all along. It was exciting and tough and eye-opening. I began my commitment leading teams. I always had my camera with me and shot whenever I could but it was not my primary focus at first. Then I had a team in Argentina who challenged me to get back to what I was finding that I really loved. I remember one person on this team who was so passionate about photography. It was an embarrassing moment really that changed everything. She handed her camera to me to get a group photo. She had it set to back-button focus which I admit at the time I knew nothing about. I was embarrassed that I didn't know what she was talking about but was determined to get back into photography and really understand all its nuances especially digital photography. A few months later I updated my camera and the very next day found myself in the communication department due to organizational changes. I admit it was with a little internal kicking and screaming but in hindsight was the best thing that could have happened. I was actively improving my technical abilities, my photographic eye and traveling the world. I feel it was a privilege to document so many stories and be witness to God's work in others lives. It is not something I feel that I was capable of way back but a journey that I was called to and one that has evolved as skills were strengthened, both interpersonal and professional. (NOTE: This blog is filled with some of those stories)

On one trip in particular to Russia. I found that original word come full circle. I found myself teaching a group of Russian youth and young adults photography as well as sharing my testimony. It was a situation where they came to hear me first as a photographer. It was also a situation where I realized that my camera had opened that particular door.

My studio photography class in action working on dance images.
The Classroom. I knew that my next step in life would be back to the classroom. Not as a student but rather a teacher. It was really an unspoken desire that I knew was on the horizon. I got a taste of it prior to missions, teaching study skills at a community college but I always wondered what it would be like to teach something I was really passionate about. That door opened up very quickly and miraculously while visiting my brother on a fundraising trip back home. And I am so grateful that it did. I now teach digital photography to a whole new generation, some who will take this information and immediately make amazing images. And others who like me are on a long journey to discover their true calling. I am also fortunate to still be traveling and capturing amazing stories around the world as well as teaching workshops internationally. (See previous post)

Circle of Life. Preparing to feed the children in a village just outside of Gulu
in Northern Uganda. 
While my camera is but a tool it has the power to open many doors in countries and hearts and minds. As long as God continues to guide me I will go boldly into the places he leads for this journey is not over yet....

This post first appeared on Kim Clark / Photography And Design, please read the originial post: here

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A Photographers Confessional & Journey


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