I studied biology in college and worked for several years in both academic and business laboratory environments. Throughout my scientific career I studied some pretty interesting (and at times, quite unpleasant) stuff. I worked in a head injury research lab, a vaccine development laboratory, and lab that produced tissues for victims of burns and illness. The specialty changed from lab to lab but the basic techniques were rather similar at each job, and I’m proud to admit that I was quite good at them. I miss that period of my life all the time.
Two kids and a few years later I’m not sure what happened to my brain! I feel so forgetful and mindless at times. These days I’m not sure being in a lab would be safe for me or anyone around me. I spent several years following my husband wherever his job took us in the Army and at our last duty station I just plain couldn’t find a place to work! So I turned to something I always loved doing on the side...
Photography. And it was always fun and exciting. No lab rats or smelly formulations. No critical thinking, until I got to editing anyway. Just cute kids, couples in love, and beautiful, memorable moments. I loved capturing picturesque memories one by one.
And now we’ve moved again. It was God who moved us this time. Here we are in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and I’m trying to figure out how to use this artistic gift and passion He gave me. I’ve been struggling to figure out how to use it best here in this new, frighteningly different, yet always inspirational third world country. Then I came across this article from Owlhaven:
Esther Havens is a photographer who works in various countries around the world, doing story-telling photography for non-profit organizations. She began her career as a photojournalist, complete with the standard belief that photographers are not supposed to get involved in the lives of the people they are photographing.
The first time she traveled to Africa, her aim was to get that perfect ‘pitiful’ National Geographic picture. You know, the sad waif with flies on his face. When she finally got just the picture she wanted, she was elated.
But when she pulled the photo up on her computer screen, instead of elation, she felt shame. She realized she hadn’t done anything to improve this child’s life. She hadn’t even learned his name. She began to doubt her purpose as a photographer. What good were her photos if they didn’t help the people she photographed?
The next time she went to Rwanda, she felt God speak to her: “My light shines upon them.” She approached her next photo subject with those words still buzzing in her head. It was a beautiful woman with a baby on her back. Before Esther began to take pictures, she stopped to talk to her, to find out about her life. And in the process of making time for a relationship with this woman, she also ended up with a stunningly radiant, light-filled portrait. A portrait of a woman filled with strength and beauty. A portrait that showed the woman as God saw her. When the woman saw the picture she cried. “I am beautiful,” she said, as if realizing it for the first time in her life.
And in Esther’s ear again whispered the voice, My light shines upon them. And she knew that honoring these people was right.
Esther tells of a time in Ethiopia, when she asked a girl drawing water if she could take her picture. The girl giggled, embarrassed, and said, “Oh no, I’m in my pajamas. Let me go get dressed first.” Esther went to the girl’s house with her, and ended up with a beautiful, pride-filled picture of the girl dressed in her best, with her whole family around her.
These days Esther’s aim is to tell stories about people in a way that shows the need and moves others to help, while still preserving the dignity of those in need. Esther works extensively with a beautiful organization called charity: water. For her birthday this year she asked friends and family instead of giving her a gift to donate money for a water well. To her delight, enough money was raised, and then she got the privilege of taking beautiful pictures of that well going in, and showed the difference it made for the people in that community.
Isn’t it amazing that photography has such life-changing power? Visit her website to learn more about how to support her.
(and thanks, Owlhaven for this great article!)
So, there it is. I know what I want to be when I “grow up.” I want to be like this incredible lady. And I want to start today. I’m heading out to do some street photography here in Cambodia. I want to show you the photos because the eyes change the heart. Once you see, I pray you will be moved to help! There are so many needs. We’ll get into those in coming weeks, but for now just check back soon to see real photos of real people right here where I live.
Oh, I can’t wait! The camera batteries are on the charger!