My Struggle as a Photographer

By Jeffery Purganan, photographer on projects Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, and Ecuador

20 years ago I went on my first international trip to work alongside a sister church in Tijuana, Mexico. Since then a lot has changed in the way that we do international church work, but a lot has change in the way that I participate in global church work. Among the most significant is the way in which I photograph. On my first trip, I took 10 rolls of film and brought back 240 pictures. The pictures were of me, my friends, and the exotic place that I was visiting. The photos were to tell my story.

As I have grown into professional creative, I am learning to tell the stories of others. This is not a matter of technique or skill, but of perspective and responsibility. What does it mean to responsibly share someone else’s struggle, needs, pain? What does it mean to share a story representing 14,800 people?

The struggle of speaking about brokenness:

Stories that recognize brokenness can also communicate the dignity, strength and beauty of every person. While my “job” is to get great photos, I must also think about privacy truthfulness, and the trust required to let someone see and share their financial poverty.

The camera is one of the most frightening of modern weapons, particularly to people who have been in [trauma]… In the back of ruined towns, and cities, and factories, there is aerial mapping, or spy mapping, usually with a camera. Therefore the camera is a feared instrument, and a man with a camera is suspected and watched wherever he goes.” John Steinbeck in A Russian Journal.

The struggle of complexity

As a photographer, I believe that a good picture could be worth 1,000 words, but a great picture might frame an experience in a way that words could never communicate. For example, I can say, “The children play in a river full of trash.” However, this simple photo communicates the reality of that much better.

Photographs can limit the ways in which we think about people. The danger of a powerful photograph is that a moment can come define the only picture we have. Photographs are discrete, limited and historical.

For storytellers, it is not necessary to find the resolution of these struggles or to find closure, but to acknowledge we are participating in the middle of the story. Similar to the proverb, “the wise plant trees they will never see the fruit of,” I am consciously aware that I am in the now, not in the future. We must not consume these stories and images as part of a set story in history to be unchanged, but an unfolding future. 

For storytellers, it is not necessary to find the resolution of these struggles or to find closure, but to acknowledge we are participating in the middle of the story. Similar to the proverb, “the wise plant trees they will never see the fruit of,” I am consciously aware that I am in the now, not in the future. We must not consume these stories and images as part of a set story in history to be unchanged, but an unfolding future. 

First Fruits

I got home from work, sat on the couch, and wept. We aren't just talking the single tear down the cheek kind of wept. It was filled with snot bubbles, heaving shoulders and shaky breath. Today, I was broken for the cause I've been working towards the past year. I've felt for so long that the transition and creation has been slow then I opened my email to see the NCM Summer 2016 Magazine has been released. I opened the link and was mesmerized by the words I've stared at for hours and enraptured by the images I've looked at for months. It's as if all my emotions, thoughts and hopes broke from my heart like a flood as I clicked from one page to the next. 

May Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.

These pages, these stories, these smiles - this is The Kingdom of Heaven on earth. This is the hope of the Gospel, the representation of Living Water to a group of people in Sierra Leone. 

This is the story of God's goodness. 

Hopes, Dreams, and Water Balloons

The last six months I've spent designing websites, working with ministries, collaborating with creatives and it's all building up to our launch as an organization. It's been exhausting, I spend a lot of my time being terrified of the future, and even more time being SO excited for what God is doing through this tiny little vision. We've gone on one Media Mission to Sierra Leone with Nazarene Compassionate Ministries where we visited new wells, changed communities, and our brothers and sisters in Christ. We celebrated together, danced together, and worshiped together.

At first, we only dreamed of going on one, maybe... MAYBE... two trips as we began to launch. In the next three months, we will be traveling to Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, and Ecuador to share stories of goodness happening all over the globe. God took one idea and is now sending us to the ends of the earth to share stories of goodness. We are headed to the Compassion Conference hosted by The Nazarene Compassion Ministry tomorrow and I might just burst from all the feelings swirling inside my heart. I get to meet with those we will be partnering with over seas, see the faces of those who have been praying for us and our vision, and be blessed by so many wise people who are sharing how they are being the hands and feet of Jesus in this world. 

This conference has been a bench mark for Saving Acts since the beginning of it's creation. My friend, pastor, and partner in this, Jeff, visited my home to hear what I've been dreaming up to find scribbles all over papers taped to the dining room wall. We had a timeline with a list of "To-Do" before the conference so we can share a vision and mission. That list was practically tossed out the window, twice, and replaced with a new plan. Even with a new plan, there was the same vision to share stories of goodness; there was also the same timeline. 

It's as if we've been slowly filling up a water balloon. I've been watching the latex stretch, water spray out the side, and my excitement slowly growing. The water was actively swirling within my hands, I could feel the water pressure push it's way through and shape the balloon I've been holding in my hand. The past week, we've confirmed three trips for the rest of the year, finished our website and video. The knot of the balloon has been tied and we are just waiting for the whistle to throw the balloon up the air and see how it lands, who's showered by the water and who's going to pick up their own balloon and join in. 

New Beginnings

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring."