Back in the 1960s I learned that if you wanted to do ‘real’ photography, you had to learn to think like Ansel Adams. He was a perfectionist who carefully measured and noted the tone values of each scene into his notebook before snapping a photograph. He hiked with a huge, 8x10 camera, into the mountains in order to capture Yosemite at sunrise. He mixed his own chemicals and spent hours with each negative in the darkroom until he had the perfect print. I wouldn’t hesitate to call him the greatest photographer of the twentieth century. But today, teenagers with iPhones routinely capture better photographs.
When you spend your lifetime mastering a traditional craft, it’s easy to resent those who come along with today’s technology and capture beauty with ease. Those who play pipe organs often criticize the use of contemporary music in the church. Preachers who diligently read their theologically perfect sermons from a manuscript resent today’s emphasis on relevant narratives told in active voice. Our whole investment in denominational hierarchy is being challenged by the emerging church movement.
Last month, I went to the neighborhood photo club and heard two comments that challenged my stodgy heart. First, the president of the photo club said that if Ansel Adams was alive today, he’d be loving today’s technology. Great people don’t say, “We’ve got to keep doing things the way we’ve always done them.” Ansel Adams was a great man; even in his eighties, his mind was flexible and accepting of new ideas. Second, a professor of photography at the local art school stated that today’s digital techniques (particularly HDR), allow our photographs to replicate the way the human eye actually sees a scene. Our eyes constantly scan and capture a wide range of tone values. Film can only capture a narrow range. Today’s digital cameras can capture multiple images that are then combined in the computer to create a final picture or video that is more true to the human experience.
What’s the take away? If you want to be authentic in your Christian witness, learn to embrace change. Ansel Adams would. Today’s church can also.