As a newbie photographer, I mostly like taking pictures of landscapes and animals, because taking pictures of people is hard.
They often freeze when they see a camera, reverting to what I can only call “candid mode”: a polite smile, good posture, attention focused on the photographer. Sometimes those shots come out well, but sometimes they come out forced and empty. I’ve learned that to get a good picture, you have to wait a few minutes, or point out something interesting, or maybe crack a joke, and then – when the “candid” mask breaks and they laugh or grin or become amused or thoughtful – start snapping in a hurry.
I’ve also learned that the best photographs come from noticing things about someone: the way blue and green mingles in their eyes, the way their face changes when they wear a real grin, the nobility of their profile when they glance to the side, the way they glance back with curiosity to see if you’re still there.
Being behind a camera forces you to look at people differently. And it is a good practice for Christians to cultivate.
In our day-to-day lives, with people we know, we begin to see them as whatever they are to us: a mother, a friend, a husband, a church member. With people we don’t know, we have a tendency to slot them into easy categories – grocery store stocker, fast-food lady, homeless man – and we’re lucky if we remember anything about their faces ten minutes after we’ve passed them by. Either way, the result is that we stop seeing people as people with their own challenges and struggles and ideas and attributes. We stop seeing the wonderful, interesting, unique things about them; we stop really looking because we’ve convinced ourselves there is nothing more to see.
But Jesus wasn’t like that. He noticed people everywhere – even the ones hidden up in trees, away from his attention, even those sneaking up to touch his robe. He noticed the anonymous and the polite as much as he noticed the men who lowered their friend down through the roof on a litter. He was skilled in seeing people as they were; he was skilled in noticing. And for Jesus, seeing people and noticing them led, always, to love. Because once we really see people, it’s hard not to love them, to wonder how we can serve them.
I’ve known my mom and dad for my whole life and I have taken hundreds of pictures of them. But this weekend when they visited, as I tried to play photographer and practice my new portraiture tricks, I noticed them in ways I hadn’t before. I noticed the good humor you can see in the lines of my dad’s face and how he can’t help his grin when he laughs. I noticed my mom’s look of thoughtful concentration and her impish smile when she’s making a joke or talking with people she loves. They’re my parents, and that’s how I know them, but in their pictures they are also interesting, funny, warm people.
Even if you’re not good at photography and take no interest in it, try to adopt a photographer’s mindset as you walk through your days this week. Take the time to see people. Notice the details. Don’t just slot them into their familiar role or ignore them if they’re unknown to you. Look at them with a thoughtful, appreciative eye and see what new things you can learn. See how your love grows and along with it your ability to serve and give.
Don’t let the tidal wave of the day’s demands keep you from noticing everyone around you.