Beauty Out of Chaos: The Art of Photography (Part 4)

Creative Welcome to the blog series, Beauty out of Chaos and the Sacredness of Art. If you're new, check out the last 3 weeks where I talked about mimicking God in creating, Connie Jakab shared about the art of movement, and Sandy Hopkins shared about the art of fiber. Today we are privileged to hear from Dorothy Greco about the art of photography. Dorothy is wildly talented in her writing and image making, seeking to "bring out and respond to inherent beauty."

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1. Dorothy, you say you feel equally at home speaking, writing, and hiding behind the lens. Obviously, each of those require a creative soul. Was there a time when you embraced your artistic self? Did you ever wrestle with accepting your eclectic interests (journalist, pastor, homeschooling mom, photographer?)

I definitely have an eclectic palette. From time to time I have wondered if would be wise for me to prune off some of the things I feel passionate about—but those thoughts generally pass. I actually find my interests expanding and deepening as I age. (I wish God had designed us to only need four hours of sleep each night.)

I started making photos with my Kodak Instamatic when I was about six years old. As an early teen, I knew I wanted to work as a photographer. The other passion that existed ever since I can remember has been my connection to nature. The trees, animals, oceans, rivers, etc. all pointed to the existence of something greater, more powerful, and infinitely more beautiful than anything else on the earth. Wedding these two loves give me great joy. That said, I still tend to talk about myself in terms of being creative rather than being an artist. I respond to what’s in front of me where a “true artist” creates something ex nihilo.

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2. Can you describe what you're looking for when you photograph your subjects? How do you uncover and tell stories through images? I also love your eye for nature. Tell us about the internal workings of your soul for those shots. 

There’s two components to any type of photography: the relational and the technical. When I photograph a person, I am aiming to bring out and respond to their inherent beauty. Nine times out of ten, when I meet someone I’m going to photograph, the first words out of his/her mouth are, “I hate having my photograph taken!” I get the forced vulnerability that’s part of the process but I do wince when I hear this. Folks tend to judge themselves harshly (especially women) and any self-hatred will pop up when someone points a camera in your face. My hope is that in the process of making these images, I will help them see themselves through a different filter—one that’s more gracious, and dare I say, more accurate.

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Though it might seem like a stretch to talk about a relationship with an object (be it a flower, landscape, or animal), the impulse to photograph anything rises up in me because of how I relate to, or respond to it. Making images of nature connects me to myself and to God in a profound and mysterious fashion. I really get lost in time and become part of something that’s larger than the sum of it’s parts. For me, it’s definitely worship.

The other component of photography is the technical. I’m always searching for and following the light. As I’m shooting, I am continually asking myself questions such as, How can I use my gear to make the highest quality image of my subject? Or What’s the best perspective for the shot?

3. You have quite the resume! I'm curious about your work with youth experiencing homelessness in Hollywood. How did that come about, what was the process like, and can you share a story that was particularly meaningful to you?

I have been working in journalism since 1985—almost 30 years now. I have had the privilege of traveling all over and meeting heads of state, famous artists and athletes, as well as the poorest of the poor, the marginalized, and those who are often unseen. The Hollywood project started as a series of photographs I had taken while working for a magazine based in Los Angeles. An art director saw them and connected me to a church that was working with these kids. Over the course of two years, I spent about four months with them.

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Though the kids appear dangerous and anti-social, they actually had a very tight community where they all looked out for and cared for one another. Once they decided that they could trust me, I became part of their family. Most of them lived in a squat under the Hollywood Blvd/101 Freeway overpass. I actually stayed with them for a few nights—the longest and most miserable nights of my life! Many of them experienced broken family relationships and saw running away as the best option. Dave, the teenager in the photograph with the huge scar, had been shot by his father. He died a few years after this photograph was taken from hepatitis.

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4. I'm exploring this idea of beauty coming from chaos or existing despite chaos, particularly in the artist's world. I wonder at the spiritual implications and how we're imitating God the Creator. Have you experienced this firsthand and can you reflect on this idea?

One of the most common lines I hear when folks see my work is, “I wish I was creative!” To which I always respond, “You are!” If we are created in God’s image and He is creative, then we are too. Part of the problem is that folks define creativity too narrowly. They limit creativity to painting, or writing music, or playing an instrument. When we stop and think about it, all day, every day, all of us are being creative. How does one put together a meal, decide how to arrange the living room, or resolve conflicts that arise in parenting or on the job? When we use our gifts and abilities to solve problems and reveal a perspective or understanding to others, we are creating.

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I hope when we get to heaven, we get to see a time lapse of how God created the universe. The idea of all of this beauty, all of this astounding creation—from the human eye to the Hawaiian Islands to watermelons—all starting out as nothing brings me to my knees. Even now as I’m writing I can’t help but weep as the wonder of it all. It’s almost too much to bear.

Not only do I think we all are creative, but I believe that He invites and calls us to create with Him, alongside of Him, and experience His goodness in the process.

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Dorothy is a storyteller, equally at home behind the lens, speaking, or writing. Her photography clients have included National Geographic, The Boston Globe, LA Times, The New York Times, and more. Her writing has been published in Relevant Magazine, Christianity Today (Her.meneutics, Gifted for Leadership, main site, and Today’s Christian Woman), and more. She is a member of Redbud Writer's Guild. You can find her at www.dorothygreco.com.