Burning off the dross

Timeless pictures

Yesterday, my wife Donna was viewing online stock photography, overwhelmed by the sheer number and similarities of the photos available. She remarked how the presence of people made each shot unique.

Her commentary lead me to consider how we view photography in a functional sense as a culture, particularly when it comes to sharing photos among friends and loved ones. People now share cellphone photos of their meals, outings and gatherings. Among the younger crowd, photos are almost ubiquitous as the social networking sites themselves. Photos of the moment, shared in the moment.  With photography so common, its true value may go unnoticed. 

The photo at left is from Donna’s first roll of film as a photography student. Of the 21 viewable shots on the roll, eight were absolutely precious.

Such captivating, interacting imagery lead to our starting a photography business in 2001. But while attending our first photographer’s convention, we got a snapshot of the good and evil in man’s heart: 9/11. 

On that day, our early morning sessions were filled with beautiful family photography celebrating the joy of life, while tragedy and heroism unfolded 133 miles away. The event touched many – our photo equipment vendor lost his wife that morning. 

The imagery of that day affected us deeply as individuals, but I believe it also transformed us as a culture: we’ve become reflexively journalistic. Digital technology has further eroded the value of photography as an art, because it allows instantaneous sharing. As journalists, we chronicle our lives and all too quickly one photo piles over the next.

I know about photo piles, I have 28,000+ digital photos I need to sort. Yet, quantity isn’t important – it’s what they depict, particularly when it comes to family relationships.

Family photos aren’t merely for now – but for the generations which follow. The true value is not horizontal, sharing with peers who also attended the event, but vertically through time, for the generations yet to be born. Great photos tell stories that transcend time, and to which unborn generations can point and proudly say – the love shown in that photo lead to me. 

Fully being in the moment should reflect that sense of infinity, that timelessness.  The name of God in the Old Testament, the tetragrammaton, or YHWH, reflects a sense of infinity that our English translations poorly express. We simply place God in the ever present, by calling him I AM.  But to understand the ever present as simply here and now, like an event photo to share among friends, is to miss God’s holiness.

By combining the horizontal understanding of sharing with our current generation, while considering vertically sharing with future generations, we end up with a deep rich understanding that we’re made in God’s holy image.  

That intersection also depicts a truly timeless, unforgettable picture of love :  Christ on the cross.

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