Sacred Mystery in Storytelling
I’m not sure how I stumbled across them on Facebook, but I absolutely love the free instructional videos made by Emil Pakarklis, who started the online iPhone Photography School.
Fair warning: the website is a jumble of hyperbolic copy and frantic buy now, but-wait-there’s-more popup marketing. I haven’t yet succumbed and paid my $97 dollars (a $497 value!) for the online course – although I just might. I probably will. Why?
Certainly Pakarklis’ tips and techniques in the free videos are very useful. But as much as I appreciate the technical advice, it is his underlying philosophy that really resonates with me - on a video about travel photographs, he gently reminds viewers not get so caught up in their photography that they forget to enjoy the experience. Love this guy.
Storytelling: how do we achieve this quality in our photographs?
Even better than his philosophy of presence while traveling, in a recently-posted video (embedded below), he reflects on a favorite topic of mine – storytelling. Pakarklis notes that while we often say that storytelling is the essential purpose of photography, we don’t often describe how to achieve it in our photographs. He offers helpful commentary about how we can’t control the life experiences which influence a viewer’s interpretation; and how we should strive to capture unique moments; and how people are inherently relatable. All valid points.
But what really caught my attention was his discussion of mystery:
Something about the photo has to be mysterious or a little unclear.... and leave a lot of room for interpretation... so the viewer will pause and they’ll start thinking about what this photo is about, what it means to them and they’ll start interpreting the photo in their own way and you don’t know how they’ll interpret it but what you do know is if it’s interesting enough, if it’s beautiful, and if there’s mystery, then the people will think about it and you leave space for them to come up with their own version of the story.
To put it in context, our church photos tell the story of our faith, of who we are as the people of God. And in those photos, we need to leave space for the Holy Spirit to invite others into that mystery, into the faith. And that invitation will be extended whatever the viewer's life experiences or perspectives might be. Or at least that’s how I interpreted his explanation!
Typically, we tell church stories at four different levels:
- Foundational stories of our faith, Scriptural stories,
- Denominational stories, i.e., the lens by with we interpret Scripture, and our tradition and history of doing so,
- Communal stories, who we are as a particular congregation in a particular community at a particular time,
- Individual stories, who each of us is as part of a faith community.
At every level of storytelling, the opportunity for evangelism occurs when we invite others into the story, and they respond, bringing with them their unique perspectives, experiences, and God-given gifts. In every picture we take, there should be an implicit question of the viewer: Where are you in this story?
As photographers, we can’t expect or pre-determine the answer – that’s the beauty and the mystery of faith and of the Holy Spirit. We need to leave a space, pregnant with anticipation and possibility, for each person who encounters the image. The mystery of the photograph, the mystery of faith, is that we can only offer the invitation and trust that the Holy Spirit will be present in helping our viewers to find their own answer and to live into their own story. And their story, flowing together collectively with all of our individual stories, becomes part of the over-arching narrative of the story of the people of God.
- Lisa Brown
Our goal at Membership Vision is to help churches and other faith communities to tell their stories in the digital space. Each church, irrespective of size, has a living and active story to tell, and technology provides an opportunity to share that story in a way that is welcoming and engaging. We ease the burden of keeping communications current, by leveraging content, and harnessing the many ways that members of our communities connect with each other, both inside and outside of the church walls. We aim to remove technological hurdles and allow churches to communicate online in an effective and sustainable way. Contact us at email@example.com or call (805) 626-0143 to talk about the ways we can help your church build a digital presence.