“If you could sum up 2017 in one word, what would be it?” asked my wife. As we reflected together on this past year, we ended up landing on the same word: clarifying.
I began the year with the goal of improving my portrait photography, focusing particularly in developing my understanding and execution of lighting for portraits.
“This year I want to become a better storyteller. For me this looks like improving my photography, making more films, and practicing everyday. But stories all have an intangible idea at their core which is brought to life through many mediums. Maybe you cook delicious meals or write sappy poems. Maybe you bring ideas to life in the way you interact with customers or how you welcome people into your home. There are big ideas like love, respect, and loyalty. There are smaller ideas like how leaders can foster a community through their vulnerability. This year I’m setting out to find those ideas, those values that mean the most to me — so that I can better tell stories of truth and beauty that reflect these ideas.” — originally posted on my Instagram in January
Saritha and I had the amazing opportunity to visit the Dominican Republic, participating in a HOPE Trip and adding a couple extra days at an Airbnb near Playa Rincon, a beautiful beach in Las Galeras. This trip provided a timely break from the winter weather in Pennsylvania and space to discuss the coming months.
It’s always an inspiration to meet HOPE’s clients, and it was even more special to share that experience with my wife since she doesn’t get to come with me on work trips. We met colmado (convenience store) owners, restauranteurs, and many other entrepreneurs. The diversity of their professions really speaks to their creativity and innovative spirit.
I ended February by working on this prayer video for the country of Ukraine. I used extra footage captured from my time there in November 2016, where I had to opportunity to make a short film telling HOPE International‘s founding story.
March was a relatively slow month — I didn’t make anything new (besides a few test portraits), but spent most of my time editing a couple projects and working on things behind the scenes. It felt hard to not be creating new work but it taught me to appreciate these slower seasons and make the most of them.
April was another “building” month for me. Although I had a couple shoots, most of my time was spent editing previous projects and preparing for upcoming projects. I released a short book trailer for Created to Flourish by Peter Greer and put together a fun video featuring some random footage I had around titled An Ode to Spring.
2017 marked HOPE International‘s 20th anniversary since offering their first loans in 1997, and the short film of HOPE’s founding story was released mid-May! This project took over a year from start to finish. It was such an accomplishment to complete one of the biggest projects I’ve done to date.
I also worked with International Christian High School in Philadelphia to create photos and videos for their promotional materials. My friend who teaches at the school, Dan Hanselman, introduced me to the amazing work that they’re doing in Philadelphia!
Since the previous month was so full, June was a nice change of pace. On a whim, I created a short film with my friend, Andrew Bilindabagabo, for the My Rode Reel film competition. We had a lot of fun seeing what we could put together in 24 hours!
I also made some new head shots for my brother, Jonathan!
I had the remarkable opportunity to meet one of my creative heroes: Jeremy Cowart. I flew to Nashville, TN for an event he put together focused on creativity and ideas, which was such an inspiration. That week, I was also able to have lunch with Jeremy and talk about photography, creativity, and career choices. He shared a number of insights that I’ve been chewing on ever since then, but one of the most memorable was his response to my question, “What makes a good portrait for nonprofit communications?”
Jeremy responded, “Good photos are good regardless of what they’re for.”
This simple response struck me as so profound. For the past few months, I’d been so focused on figuring out how to improve HOPE’s portraits in order to better impact HOPE’s audience that I lost sight of the fact that an image’s quality is not dependent on its purpose or audience but rather that good photos are good regardless of if they’re used to sell products, share an experience, or communicate global issues.
It became clear to me that I need to stop boxing myself by trying to craft a formula for the best portrait, and instead pursue the beauty in front of me.
When I expressed my uncertainty about what direction I should be headed creatively, Jeremy reminded me that I’m still young so it makes sense that I’m still figuring it out. He told me that at 40 years old he feels like he’s just getting to a point of having a clear vision. Hearing these encouraging words of reassurance from someone who I’ve looked up to was worth the whole trip.
I took my third trip to work with Leadership Lab International in Croatia. The goal with this trip was to make a promotional video that communicated the heart of the ministry, which is to train Christ-centered, multicultural leaders.
“When I signed up for Leadership Lab International I was in a place of confusion and I didn’t really know what was next. Leadership Lab International is a place that is designed to help you work through that confusion and figure out what is next. How do I become a leader that is beneficial for the kingdom of God?” —Emma, Leadership Lab International student
My friends, Rachel Spier Weaver and Anna Haggard, wrote the first book in a series of books telling the stories of how the “called and courageous women of the Bible face overwhelming odds, finding strength, faith, and courage to join God’s Story.” It was so fun to make this promo video with them!
When I lived in Philadelphia, I attended Seven Mile Road Church where I got to know the amazing pastors who lead the church. I was honored when Siby asked me to make a promotional film for a new endeavor that they’re launched through their project, The Advance Initiative.
The Advance National Cohort exists to empower, equip, and encourage ministry-minded men who are exploring a calling to pastor or plant gospel-centered, multiethnic churches as or among Indian Americans.
I had the pleasure of teaming up with my brother and frequent creative partner, Jonathan Rothermel, to photograph and film Advance Initiative’s annual conference. The guys at AI are great people and good friends, so it’s always wonderful working with them!
Saritha and I headed home to Thailand for a whirlwind of a trip: Chiang Mai, Hat Yai, Bangkok, and Krabi. It was a great mix of spending time with family, experiencing Loy Kratong (lantern festival), and relaxing on the beach. We ate amazing food everyday, celebrated our marriage (again) with Saritha’s extended family, and went island hopping.
One moment that stood out during our time in Thailand was meeting a buddhist monk, Pra Niwat. When I asked Pra Niwat what he thought Thailand’s greatest need is, he responded “better infrastructure” — improved irrigation, more roads, faster trains. It was interesting that such a religious man would point to a practical need in his country.
Some of my photos of Ten Thousand Villages’ winter products were released and I also delved into motion animation a little more, creating this short promo video.
The last week of November I set off on a quick trip, starting with two days in Haiti to film an upcoming video for HOPE International. (To be released in a few weeks – stay tuned!)
After Haiti, I hopped through Panama for two days in Peru where I photographed a number of HOPE’s clients for an upcoming project, which may be released sometime in Spring 2018.
Madeleine L’Engle said in her inspiring book Walking on Water, “the artist is someone who is full of questions . . . An artist is someone who cannot rest, who can never rest as long as there is one suffering creature in this world. Along with Plato’s divine madness there is also divine discontent, a longing to find the melody in the discords of chaos, the rhyme in the cacophony, the surprised smile in time of stress or strain.”
These past few days of reflecting on this past year and the year to come have been full of encouraging and challenging reminders: as an artist I am called to pursue truth and beauty, to seek the right where there is wrong, to make art in the darkness. As Christians, we are called to this pursuit of reconciliation — regardless of what your art is, be it baking bread, teaching children, making photos, or any other fruitful endeavor that God has called you to do excellently.
My hope is that 2018 will be a year that brings further growth in both my understanding and execution of creative photo and video projects and journey as an artist. I’d love to hear what you learned in 2017 and keep you updated with where God takes me in 2018 – sign up for my email list below to follow my journey!
- Copy vs Create by Ken Wystma
- Love Lives Here by Maria Goff
- Daring Greatly by Brene Brown
- Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
- La La Land
- Baby Driver
- Dead Poet’s Society
- Stranger Things