I don't identify as a Christian artist. I'm an artist that happens to be Christian. I don't fit the (unfortunate) Christian stereotype: I'm a registered democrat, for gay rights, and I'm pro-choice. I drop the occasional F-bomb and enjoy a good craft beer. I also don't fit the (unfortunate) artist stereotype: I'm active in my congregation. I value intellectualism in the church, I question and investigate Christian ideals. I put my husband and my faith before my career. I'm confident Jesus died for my (and your) sins. That last part is where people get uncomfortable.
When I talk to my (art) colleagues about my role (as a photographer) at the youth gatherings, a wall often goes up. Once realized it's an event affiliated with Christianity, it’s clear they’ve checked out of the conversation. They’ll pretend to listen to me talk about working 18-20 hour days photographing and editing images. They’ll nod at me, though their eyes are looking elsewhere as I mention 25,000+ participants served the city of New Orleans with service projects and packed 50,000 pre-packaged meals for those in need. They won't hear how 174 Units of Blood were donated to Baton Rouge, LA during the event. They’re ready to change the subject by the time I say the Mercedes-Benz Superdome gave us the venue for free, how the pastor of the church I attend was a keynote speaker, or how the Mayor of New Orleans, Mitch Landrieu, thanked us in person for “gracing the city of New Orleans.”
(L to R) Matt Popovits, Pastor of Our Saviour New York with New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (also center), Gathering Statistics.
Christianity makes people uncomfortable. People cringe at the word "Jesus". I've had people ask me: "how'd you get into church?" Or "why do you go?" / "they're closed minded" / "they hate gays" - the list goes on. I can't really blame people. When I turn on the news and see hate groups like The Westboro Baptist "Church" this is sometimes the only image painted of Christianity for people.
Similarly, there are people who give a bad name to contemporary art. There are countless art dealers that stab artists in the back. There's a whole lot of dishonesty, tax evasion, and strong personalities. When I tell my Christian friends (for lack of a better term) about my work, or the work of artists who I deal for, sometimes that too is discredited with "I could make that (art)", or "my child could do that", "I don't get it", “that art is stupid” - that list also goes on.
When I told select colleagues at the gathering I was from New York City, a wall also went up. I had people tell me the city, MY city, was dirty, unsafe, and that they "hated it”. I had people say offensive things that I’m uncomfortable repeating. THANKS? Christians discount other Christians who choose to live in New York City – which is most ironic, because there’s so much need and opportunity for ministry here. This negative attitude reiterates people cringing at Christians.
What's my point? While I don’t believe there’s a “war on Christianity,” I believe Christians can be just as unaccepting to non-Christians as they are to us. If I could sum it up: Proverbs 18:2 “a fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions”.
For me, these triennial LCMS Youth Gatherings are where worlds collide. I first met photo manager Nathan Harrmann in 2010. I was 22 and in my first year of graduate school. Nathan trained me on Capture One, (at this time I had only used Photoshop) and introduced me to new concepts, strategies and general real-world skills that NO college course could rival. I am forever thankful for everything he has taught me. Over the years, he has always been a text away if I needed him as a reference. He's always been there to answer any questions I've had, and I'm honored that he's had me back on the team.
In 2016, The Media Team consisted of awesome content creators, social media specialists, graphic designers, writers, videographers and photographers. I would interact with other teams of musicians and speakers who are fantastic at what they do. I think of standout writers like Lindsay Henry Rohde and filmmakers Micah Rabe and Andrew Metcalf from Inspirmedia Productions in Lincoln, NE. I think of the film screening of Walking Man by Eric Norwine and Josh Salzberg. Most importantly, these people aren't just "good... for Christian Artists." They're just Good, PERIOD. Don't discredit our hard work because it's a Christian event.
In addition to Myself and Nathan, others on the photography team included Matthew Boness and Matthew LaVere. We had a fantastic time. Although we worked early mornings and late nights, we knew how to have fun. We even had the ultimate pop-up gallery in our media office.
(L to R), Entire 2016 Media Team, The Photographers' Pop-Up Show and workstations, Selfie on a boat with some Media Team members.
This wasn't about being in New Orleans and trading out our skills for a 10-day stay in the heart of the city. This is about loving what we do, and using our skills to the best of our abilities toward a purpose and message that deeply resonates with us. Lifelong friendships are formed during these 10 days together. 3 years ago I met a student interested in SCAD and offered guidance through the application process when it came time for her to apply. 6 years ago, I became good friends with a media team member who later served as the MC at my wedding. When I launched Treat Gallery, I reconnected with a media team member I met 6 years prior - he's exhibited and juried shows for me.
What are you passionate about? What can you volunteer your talents to? If you’re a Christian, this is a call to action for you especially. We've got a long way to go, everyone. Let's be the change we want to see.
Images of the 25,000+ participants during the youth gatherings.