How I Got Involved with Photography & How it Relates to my Faith

A portion of this article comes from an essay originally titled, “Through the Lens of Hill Country,” which I wrote on February 13, 2019. I was 18 at the time. It was initially written as a requirement for a college application to Rhodes College in Memphis, TN and has not been touched since it was written. I have added an additional length to the essay concerning the question of how photography relates to my faith today. This is the most important part of the article as it connects my story with photography to the premise of this blog, ‘Scripture Says’. That is, looking at life (passions, personal battles, current events, and more) through what the Holy Scriptures say about it. I also hope this will allow you to get to know me, Levi, a little bit better, especially if you follow the blog. I plan to write a little about my life story in the future, but more on that later. Here is how I got involved with photography and how it relates to my faith in Jesus Christ. Enjoy!

“Through the Lens of Hill Country”

With my fishing pole in my right hand, I walked through the muddy trails cut by the deep ruts of 4-wheeler traffic. As I searched for things to keep me distracted from home, I admired a vast lake encircled by woods touched only by the occasional resident of Duck Hill, Mississippi. I looked to my left beside the quagmire of the bank and saw something that stood out with a different pattern compared to the surrounding ground. As I took a step closer for a better look, I made out the slender, slithering, silhouette of the infamous water moccasin. I possessed no fear of the venomous snake due to catching snakes my entire childhood. Instinctively, I eased up to the creature. As the snake opened its mouth prepared to bite me, I snapped the photo. This perfectly captured moment was the first step of my long journey toward becoming a photographer.

After taking the photo of the snake, I began taking more photos of nature outside. My frequent photography trips served as an escape from my difficult and unhappy frequent memories from childhood. I wanted to share the happiness I craved as a young boy with others through the photos I took. Slowly, my escape became my dream to become a photographer. I learned about photography on my own until I moved to my dad’s house in Strayhorn, Mississippi. In my new home, I sought out local photographer Nathan Dixon to take me as an apprentice, to teach me about the art of photography, and describe the science behind the techniques. We started with the exposure triangle and progressed from there. He allowed me to assist in photoshoots and projects. On the computer, he taught me the editing aspect of photography. Although I did not own a “real” camera, another local photographer I became close with at the time, Gerald Thomas, lent me one of his cameras.

As I used the borrowed camera, I continuously worked at a fast-food restaurant in hopes to save up enough money to buy my own camera. I also took sports photographs for my school, posted them online, and sold prints to those interested. After months of hard work, I bought a used Canon 7D camera. Owning my own camera was a dream come true. However, now that I had the necessary tool, the real work had just begun. I needed to promote my business. I told everyone at school and around Tate county about my photography. I organized “Dade Photography” into Facebook and Instagram pages and printed 500 business cards. I used social media and personal connections to expand my business. With my new business, I sold prints, conducted photoshoots, and made money. I used the money and the experience to buy more hardware and software to expand my knowledge of photography.

Today, I am proud of the journey I have taken to become a photographer. I have photographed junior college football games for Northwest Mississippi Community College, Mississippi Delta College, and Coahoma Community College. I have photographed high school athletics for Strayhorn, Coldwater, Independence, Byhalia, and Senatobia High School. Clients hire me to photograph senior portraits, family portraits, and weddings. My work is not yet done; I still have the desire to achieve more and become a part of something bigger. I desire to learn more in regards to being behind a camera such as manipulating light, space, and color to alter my photography. I have changed from the boy who took a photo of a snake with the cracked iPhone𑁋 I am now a young photographer. I set goals, work hard to achieve them, and continue to meet each new goal on the path to becoming a great photographer. (End of article)

As a short update on where I am in my career as a photographer, I did not get accepted into Rhodes College. As I was upset initially, only the Living God of all Creation could turn a seemingly hopeless situation into an opportunity of a lifetime. Four months after I wrote the essay you just read, I surrendered to the ministry of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and that meant I needed a good school with a Christian Studies department to prepare me. The problem was, I only had two months before the fall semester started, and I had no idea what to do or where to look. I heard about Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, AR through a close family friend living in Little Rock. Looking at the school online, I thought to myself, “There is no way I or my photography are close to good enough for this school. No way this will happen.”

Contrary to my skepticism and led by the Holy Spirit, I applied anyway, and when I went for my tour, I asked God to show me if this is where he wants me, even if I don’t feel I’m good enough. I ended up getting my acceptance letter in the admissions office on my tour. Just days before, God had closed the door to the school I was already planning on attending that fall. Two weeks later, I was enrolled with a schedule. I sent in some work of mine to OBU’s Communications Department, and before I knew it, they offered me the opportunity to be one of their photographers as a work-study job! I was overwhelmed. What I thought was a loss in being rejected by a D3 university was what led me to become a photographer for one of the most distinguished D2 universities in AR (and possibly in the whole South, but I admit I am biased).

How does photography relate to my faith?

I try living in such a way that will allow my work as a photographer to be an outflow or reflection of Christ’s work in me. What I mean by that is, Christ is constantly doing work in 

the life of the believer. The process of sanctification is God’s continuous work in our lives that produces a clearer image of himself in us and through us. It is his “bending us back” into his image from what once was a distorted, warped image reflecting this sinful world. You can give the world a ‘glimpse’ of God’s beauty and image through the things you are passionate about and gifted at. By reflecting God’s image and transformative power through art, teaching, singing, acting, dancing, or even homework and so much more, the world will ask what is different about your style and attitude, why you do it with joy, and when they do, you have a direct opportunity to show them through the beauty you create just how much more beautiful our God actually is.

Genesis 1:1 says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” It should not take long to realize our God is a creative God. He is so amazing at what he does. He created us and everything that fills the earth. How beautiful are the mountains, and how vast are the canyons? How about the beautiful animals and flowers with their specific, unique details? And yet, the human being is the only creation of God that he made a living being “out of the dust of the ground and breathed the breath of life into his nostrils,” according to Genesis 2:7. He rolled up his sleeves on us. This was an intimate creation where he wanted us to have a relationship with one another. We are his creation. Consequently, the things that we create ourselves are small portraits of God’s creativeness that should show the world who we are and who we ultimately belong to, God himself.

My photography is more than simply taking photos. They won’t last forever. Like all things, one day they will no longer be here. For these reasons, my desire is that my photos will point to something more, something beyond ourselves, to make at least one person consider the inescapable beauty of the world and where it came from, to make an impression on them that will last longer than the memory of the photo itself. Ultimately, it is to point them to Christ who died and resurrected again, defeating sin and death itself, for the whole of his Creation.

A friend of mine who I consider more like a brother recently asked me, “Hey bro, what’s your definition of art? Lol, it’s for a class.” I responded with, “For me, art is the way in which we reflect God’s creativity in us by expressing our emotions and articulation our thoughts, hopes, and dreams in a way we otherwise would not be able to do in words.”

To end, I will leave you with an excerpt from the poem, “The Greatest Artist of All Time,” by Jefferson Bethke:

What if I told you that you are God’s poetry? You were created because someone else was creative. Long ago, he picked up his eternal paintbrush, dipped it in his glory, placed us in his story, and said ‘They will live for me.”

No matter what we’ve done, God can still use us. Even though other artists, once they have broken equipment and start to make excuses, God instead doesn’t refuse us and neither does he accuse us, but he redeems us in Jesus, promising never to lose us…

Our lives are borrowed time, and this poem is borrowed lines because the most ridiculous statement we could ever say is that this poem is mine, because we’re not self-sustaining, no, we’re not self-creating. Technically, nothing we do is original because we’re just imitating, and that’s not a diss. All I’m trying to say is this: that even our own creativity is nothing more than an outflow of his…

It’s about time we give God his rightful credit too because he’s a God in the business of making all things new, and here’s the truth: he’s not through with making a masterpiece of you.

“The Greatest Artist of all Time,” Jefferson Bethke

A link to the entire poem, “The Greatest Artist of All Time,” by Jefferson Bethke, is found below.

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