What Began in the Dark Blossomed into Kindom
When I first introduced myself to Instagram (IG), I began clumsily. As someone who began with film and a darkroom, I found it to be clunky and structured. In time, however, God began to utilize my clumsiness for the Kingdom and kindom. The short story is that I was bedridden for six months. As I laid in the dark bored of watching tv and movies, I turned to my phone (because that was better, I thought).
I was empowered by an Instagram photography group (@jjcommunity) and started a regional group in Los Angeles (@jj_losangeles). I posted weekly challenges and featured people every day. When it got to be too much, I asked for help. Several years later, when I moved to Portland, OR, I expanded the group to @jj_westcoast and then eventually passed it on.
Here’s where the visual ethnography became community and vice versa: I began to facilitate meetups (instameets) once a month, posting a place, date and time and people would show up (who knew?), we’d walk around, shoot (pictures, that is), enjoy community, share knowledge with each other and have fun. What started in a place of darkness, God used with great love and I was forever changed as a visual ethnographer.
At the end of one instameet, I noticed a young teenager hanging around who had been a part of our group.
“Do you need a ride?” I asked.
“No. I’m waiting for my parents to pick me up.”
“Oh. What time do you think they’ll be here?”
“Uhhhh … they’re on their way. They should be here soon,” he said nervously looking at his phone.
I hung out. We began to talk and eventually, he said, “I play tennis all the time with my twin, but I don’t really have any friends. I like to come to these instameets because I love photography, but I don’t have anyone to hang out with that also likes to shoot.” He was 15 then. When he was 17, he became a moderator for the group.
I kept trudging along, continually asking God what I was supposed to do with this and these people. To be honest, here is what my conversations with God would sound like, “What the heck?! What am I doing?! Seriously, God. I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“…‘good video and film records for research are ultimately the product of observation that is organised and consistent. The equipment, except in specialized circumstances, cannot replace the observer’” (19). And then one midweek day while running to shoot waves at The Wedge in Newport Beach with a photographer friend, I had a similar encounter, which completely changed my posture to this group. I posted up a notice, not really expecting too many people if any. As my friend and I wedged into the rocks, trying to stay dry, shooting away, I got a text from a young man.
“Are you still at the spot?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“I got off work early so I’m going to head there.”
A half-hour passed, “are you by chance wearing a red shirt?”
“Yes, I am.”
“I’m right behind you.”
And then I heard God whisper, “put your camera down and sit and chat.”
I maneuvered out of the rocks and sat next to him.
“I don’t have a camera. I just have a phone,” he said nervously.
“Is it a smartphone?”
“Then you have a camera.”
“What do you like to shoot?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I just don’t have any friends and I thought this would be a safe place for me. I noticed you do these things regularly.”
“I do! So next time, just come. We have lots of fun and you can learn a lot by just hanging out because some of these guys are professionals.”
We chatted some more. He shot a few frames.
At the next instameet, he showed up, made friends and began meeting up with some of them.
What is ethnography? It “… involves the ethnographer participating, overtly or covertly, in people’s daily lives for an extended period of time, watching what happens, listening to what is said, asking questions – in fact, collecting whatever data are available to throw light on the issues that are the focus of the research” (34).
Although visual ethnography is a methodology (blah blah blah), it can be a way to show love.
Forgive me if you read all of this and are wondering what happened or worse, seemingly patting myself on the back. I hated the book. WAY too much theory and not enough application. This was my way of making good of the reading. This post, however, has me in a bit of a directional quandary, so I appreciate your prayers.
Pink, Sarah. Doing Visual Ethnography. SAGE Publications. Kindle Edition.
13 responses to “What Began in the Dark Blossomed into Kindom”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Nancy, this is so perfectly you in every way. Thank you for sharing more of your story. The transformation that happens between all involved is beautiful and good. We are all just looking for a friend, someone who gets us and we can be ourselves around. There’s deep theological truths woven in all that. How do you envision utilizing your instameets experiences in your new “share the love” endeavor for this program?
Thank you for your kind thoughts.
The answer to your question: I DON’T KNOW!
I’ve been asking God for clarity and all I keep hearing is wait.
Love this story, Nancy. It’s incredible to read about the community that was formed around these instameets and the role that you played in it. What I see from your post is how something that is as simple (on the surface; I know much more work goes into these kind of things) as asking people to show up to a place to take photos served as a conduit of transformation in people’s lives.
I think it’d be interesting to try something like that in Hong Kong. I know a lot of people who are interested in photography and who would be keen to try that. Finding a common interest like that can generate a safe place for people to explore relationships with one another and give a sense of belonging they didn’t know they could find.
Thank you for your kindness.
You mentioned in your post that you’re not much of a photographer, but being a photographer is not the key here, which I think you’ve picked up on.
Every once in a while I scouted a new location, but most of the time (because I live in Southern California) the beaches are awesome places to meet. If there are locations like that in Hong Kong that people draw to because of some awe inspiring thing, that start there and don’t be afraid to go there often. The beauty of photography and walking in places over and over and over again is that you hopefully see with new eyes.
If you want to start something like this, let me know. I’d be so happy to help you! It’s not as hard as you think.
Nancy Thank you , thank you, thank you! I as well struggled with the book and its lack of practical application. You gave meaning and life to visual ethnography which it what I believe it should be. It is not just a way to document research and record findings it a way to touch hearts and impact lives. Images hold different meanings to us all. I can’t say the number of times I have been in a photo gallery and said something about a picture to have the person next to me expand my understanding by telling me what they were seeing and experiencing through the photograph that I did not see as a possibility.
You reminded me of a time that I had a gallery show of some photos from Russia and one of the photos was a close up of a young boy. I blew it up and hung it as part of the show.
One evening a young man came in and he stood in front of that shot for awhile. I finally walked over and said hi. He said the photo reminded him of a young boy he once knew and I think he was getting lost in his thoughts.
I realized then that art has a way of touching people in ways unimaginable. That moment forever changed me as an artist as well.
Nancy one o f the reason I struggle with visual ethnography stems from my own fascination with cultures. The more visual images in the situation I find myself in outside of my own culture the harder it is for me to stay present in the moment. I love architecture, landscapes, as well as, other forms of imagery. Once I get past the imagery I can see the moment. I wish it was the other way around.
A directional quandry? I’m fascinated by the new ways community is forming. It seems to me that your story and your artistry will align quite naturally with your project. I’ll wager that your contribution to people who wrestle with issues of identity will include much of what you wrote about. As far as the book have too much theory and not enough application, it looks like you’ve got the application part down already anyway.
The directional quandary is that when I finished posting I took a gander at where @jj_westcoast was. Instagram’s algorithms have messed everything up and I hadn’t seen a post from them in awhile. They hadn’t featured since May! I sat staring at it for a few seconds and then scrolled up to the profile and noticed that they have posted that they are looking for someone to take the feed over. The quandary lies in the fact that as I was writing this my heart was stirred for that long ago community I once had. Should I be the one to pick it back up? My husband got excited and then the next day said he didn’t feel like it was something for us, which I agreed with … BUT I’m still praying about.
The further quandary is that there are other photographers and videographers creating beautiful imagery of the biracial Asian population. I don’t know, at this moment, how to add something new to that.
“involves the ethnographer participating” I appreciate your passion and how community can come out of a core value
Nancy, I forget if you’ve shared with me your NPO. I’m really eager to see that unfold. You possess a knack for creating communities, seeing the unseen, and making others feel safe – all of which you exhibited in this post.
I have not shared my NPO, but here it is: Striving to help the Scriptures be more applicable to biracial Koreans – a hapa theology with the inclusion of art.
Thanks for confirming something to me through your words.