Lights, Camera, Love Part I: A Photojournalist’s Take on What Makes a Great Artist

As a child, I would slide out the dusty photo boxes from underneath my parents’ bed and scatter the photos across the rosy carpet. I saw my mom and dad suited up in camo gear, fresh from the morning hunt, skinning bucks. I discovered my dad’s teenage years sporting bell-bottom blue jeans and an afro hairstyle. I laughed at my brother in his cooking lessons with a giant mushroom on his head. And I blushed at the sight of my butt-naked baby pictures that showed me drinking from the backyard hose. There is nothing like a good picture to tell a story. And that’s why I decided to pursue photojournalism.

It was from these photos that I learned about my family. I got to meet people, like my grandfather, whom I never knew. As I grew older, I loved meeting people and just hearing their stories: the teenage breakups, the first kiss, the volleyball championships, and art competitions. A good story is the photographer’s adrenaline rush. But unfortunately, as I soaked in these stories, I got lost in the rush and forgot the irreplaceable piece of every good story: the people.

Recently in my photography journey, however, I had to relearn one basic life principle: we must love people.  Photojournalists search long and hard for a good story, but the secret to capturing stories is not hidden in any special formula. We find the stories when we love people.

I am not talking about the love we use to describe our favorite type of cake. The love I have in mind is more than just about a favorite pair of shoes, or a dream home. This love listens when you want to snap a quick photo. Love puts down the camera, to comfort a hurting friend. Love waits until they know you care. People want to open up to and show their deepest sores. No amount of energy or time could drown it out. This love breathes hope into a broken story. In this love, a person finds rest, safety, and strength. When a person burned by the past speaks, it cools their scorched hearts. Through the ebbs and flows of conversation, this love touches the most jagged of souls, molding them into smooth stones.  

Only love can capture authentic stories. Out of this innocent love for people, I fell in love with photos as a child. The photos underneath my parents' bed were like the children's photo books that all my friends read at night. When I scattered the family photos on that rosy carpet, I traveled back in time. I smelled the trail of my grandpa’s cigarette smoke as he walked the farm. I heard my mom fire the 22 from the deer stand. I walked alongside my dad in his bell-bottom blue jeans. I slurped my brother’s soups from a spoon during his cooking classes. 

Love. That’s what makes a great artist.