LeAnne Martin
Christians in the Arts

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Phillip Spears, Part Two: "God's Light"

Today I'm finishing up my feature of photographer Phillip Spears. Phillip came to faith at the age of 15. He has a BS in Design from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1983. Since then, he's been working as a commercial photographer in Atlanta. He specializes in educational marketing and annual reports. He and his wife, Dr. Dana Spears, have three children, Anna Kate, Maggie, and Benjamin.Make sure you check out his website for some gorgeous images.

LM: Tell me about your "God's Light" series.

I actually stole that term from a guy I used to work with. Photographers are all about light. We are always trying to manufacture or emulate God's light. I wanted to apply this to a particular set of images using light that only happens naturally and atmospherically.

My clouds series on the website is the second incarnation of the "God's Light" series. I want to put together a big series. This will be a much more serious attempt than the first. It'll be my first real foray into fine art photography in years.

I've been shooting thunderstorms for a long time. I love watching a storm, especially when it's over and especially if it's early or late in the day. It's like a symphony and a ballet all at once. The light is changing so fast. Everything is moving.

The clouds series was taken during a storm over about 35 minutes. It was magnificent in beauty and scale. I love being able to watch it happen. God is both infinite and personal, and shooting these storms feels like a personal gift to me. I know the Creator is watching me enjoy it and enjoying me enjoying it.

LM: What has been a highlight of your career?

One highlight was born out of one of the worst times in my life. My wife Dana and I lost our first child, Sarah, when Dana was 4 1/2 months pregnant. I was 30 or 31 years old, and that was my grow-up moment. Even though Sarah was still in utero, we had named her, referred to her as our child, told our Sunday school class about her. When she died, we held her and prayed over her. It was a very difficult time.

Dana's great aunt gave us some money to do a memorial. We didn't know what to do at first. Our church at the time had lots of young children so I did a series of children's portraits--about 40 or 50 shots up close that weren't sophisticated but were very meaningful. I prefer to shoot on location but we did this in a studio we set up at the church. I called it "Children of the Covenant." One Sunday morning, we ran the series as a slide show with a song that the worship minister had written. That night, I did a eulogy for Sarah.

About a year ago, we reproduced the project. The new work is better than the first one. We took some of the same kids we shot earlier and photographed them now as adults. In the slide show we had the younger photos morph into the adult ones. The series hung in the church for four or five months.

I think that first "Children of the Covenant" series was meaningful to the church as a whole, not just to us as a memorial to our child. Producing that series, looking into the eyes of all those little children, being immersed in all that wonderful innocence helped me to heal from the most traumatic thing that has happened in my life.

Though it is not technically the most demanding project I have worked on I think it does what I want all of my work to do. It serves to remind us that we are human, made in the image of God.

Phillip Spears, Photographer: Being Creative an Act of Obedience

Photographer Phillip Spears came to faith at the age of 15. He has a BS in Design from Illinois Institute of Technology in 1983. Since then, he's been working as a commercial photographer in Atlanta. He specializes in educational marketing and annual reports. He and his wife, Dr. Dana Spears, have three children, Anna Kate, Maggie, and Benjamin.Make sure you check out his website for some gorgeous images.

LeAnne: I like to start at the beginning because I'm fascinated by how an artist grows and develops. How did you get started in photography? What draws you to it?

I came to photography largely against my will. Although it is one of the few things I've been naturally good at since a young age, my long term interests were in several other areas, mostly the ministry. When I was ten, I got a Polaroid Swinger camera so I was able to take pictures instantly. Four or five years later, my older brother, who in my mind could do everything well and easily, got a 35 mm camera but he couldn't make it work. I could and so I latched onto photography for some identity. In high school, I was one of the yearbook photographers. I came to faith at about 15 and earnestly wanted to do something intellectual for the faith like preach. Throughout high school and college and early career turmoil, though, my friends continued to encourage me and tell me that photography was what I should be doing.

I thought I wanted to be a civil engineer--I had a romantic notion about what that entailed --so I went to Georgia Tech for one quarter. I hated it. Then I met a guy named Dave Fredericks, on his way back from a summer missions project, who was studying photography at the Illinois Institute of Technology. I was planning to go on to seminary, but I needed a four-year degree first and photography seemed like a good choice. But unfortunately, I neglected my studies. Then, the summer before senior year, I went to Africa on a missions trip and made some wonderful images there--some of my best still. That trip helped me realize that I was much more attuned to photography than I was to ministry. So I got serious my senior year and did really well. My professors were stunned at how fast I progressed. 

When I graduated, I went back to Atlanta and worked as a commercial lab tech and studio assistant until eventually I got an offer from a successful commercial photographer to join him, which I did for ten years. Then I decided to go on my own.

Photography was the thing other people encouraged me to do--to develop the creative part of my character. On the other hand, my father had warned me about how difficult a creative life could be. He practiced medicine but he was actually a poet at heart.

The voice of God has been very clear, though, throughout my career that I am doing what He created me to do. And I love what I do. It took me a long time to realize that. Life in the creative world is open-ended, with advantages and disadvantages, including doubt. But this is what I need to be doing. And photography has changed me. I'm a radical introvert by nature but my job requires me to interact with a lot of people every day when I'm shooting.

I'm drawn to photography because I love the images. I love to make things that surprise me and to imagine what something might look like. When the finished product is something better than I expected, I'm just amazed.

LM: What do you think it means to be an artist and a Christian?

First, I'm a little uncomfortable with the term "artist" because it implies a certain level of achievement that's best judged by someone else. I'm more comfortable with 'creative' or just 'photographer.' To your question, in some ways, being a creative and a Christian can make being a creative a lot more difficult. Most creatives have no rules. A lot of times for them it's just a design project with no real meaning.

For Christians, there's an innate connection to universal meaning. I used to worry: is my work Christian? But simply by my being a Christian, my work has that quality. The better believer I am, the more my work will reflect God's glory. In that way, it's sort of easier to be both, I guess. I'm not as concerned with the outcome. I'm being obedient to God in my work. If that kind of work is commercial, then I'm happy with that. It has made me a better artist than I ever would have been. I love making beautiful things out of nothing. Commercial photography has been much more of an education than you might expect. Because I've had to do it--to deliver the shots within certain parameters--I've learned so much.

And being a commercial photographer has required me to work. I know creatives who can't not do their work, but I'm not like that. I would be happy to sit and read C. S. Lewis and history books forever. But this work has required me to practice. And it has forced me to compete with some of the best creatives out there. There are brilliant, creative photographers today whose work is inspiring in its inventiveness and beauty. Now I am aware of what I believe is some of the best creative work ever done.

Being creative is the way I practice being a believer. It's an act of obedience. I want to do it well to a particular end. Life is now a stewardship project, which is life-affirming. I'm unbelievably grateful that God has given me this gift. I love that I get to be creative. Being creative is a fundamental part of being human.

C. S. Lewis's book The Abolition of Man has a lot to offer creatives. He divides our humanness into three categories: appetite, intellect, and the soul or the heart--the seat of the emotions. Lewis calls it "the chest." His book is a critique of modern ideology. We've done away with the soul. The appetites will always overrule the intellect if not directed by a well trained heart or soul. We've lost the sense of who we are. We've become so material that we see ourselves as only instinct and brain and so have seen our animal appetites overwhelm our intellect.

I want to give people back a spirituality in a world that's very unspiritual. I make things because they are beautiful and that's enough, really. And maybe that's the reason God made beauty--simply for us to enjoy or to remind us who we are.  

More from Phillip Spears on Thursday.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for so many things--first and foremost, salvation made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's Son. This YouTube on my friend Crystal's blog says it all.

Thank you for reading. I'll have a great new feature next week.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

For Fun

Because this blog tends to be serious, I'm shaking things up today. I'm having technical difficulties, however, with no time to investigate further so here's the link to the YouTube on my friend Nancy's fabulous blog.


Next week: a new feature!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

deAnn Roe: Still Before the Lord

Today I'm concluding my interview with deAnn Alyse Roe, Director of Visual Arts at her church in Pennsylvania and the blogger behind Vertical Creativity.

LeAnne: What are some ways you're helping people to "live in their creativity"?

deAnn: I post much of my own creative journey on the blog, my struggles and highlights, which I hope encourages others to approach God through their creativity as well. I also feel strongly about the importance of arts communities. These gatherings offer people a chance to meet with others who are exploring their creativity through a particular art form. Currently there are three arts communities at our church: a photography group, a reflective writing group for women and a new writing practice group that will begin in January. Other art communities are forming--sketching and painting. The synergy that builds when a group of like-minded creative people gather is unbelievable and fun.

LM: What are your favorite creative outlets?

dR: Oh my, I have several. But honestly, the current favorite depends on were I'm at in my spiritual journey. I've always liked words. I'm a big journaler and occasionally a poem will birth from a place of gratitude or grief. Sometimes when words can't express what's on my heart, I sketch or sit before a canvas and paint (usually with my hands and fingers--I like the feel of the paint and the texture of the canvas). In high school, I played the saxophone in marching band. Recently, a friend sold me their saxophone. When the mood strikes, I pick it up and squeak out the only song I know, "I Love You Lord." It's a song from my heart to God's heart, a real source of worship for me. However, photography, particularly macro photography, has really captured my interest.

LM: Why?

dR: Photography causes me to slow down and see--really see the world around me. There are two little lakes close to my house and it's a near perfect day for me when I meander through the tree-lined trails in silence, enjoying God's presence. I don't zoom past anything; instead, I get on my knees, nose to the ground and investigate a fallen acorn, decaying leaf, spider web, or dew drop on a blade of grass. Then after taking in its wonder with my eyes, I try to snap a shot that will remind me of the experience. With macro photography, you get up-close  and personal with your subject. You see things that you never would have noticed if you hadn't slowed down to really look. This gives me a deep sense of gratitude for the beauty of creation and God's love for me. 

Also, photographs can tell stories or lead your mind into imagining--whether it's the aged face of a stranger, the broken TV on the curb, even the Ghost "Peeps" [marshmallow puff candies] that I saw abandoned alongside the road (yes, I took a picture of them!). There is something healing about slowing down our pace of life and being fully present in the moment--and the arts cause us to do this. I believe it's important to develop our creative voices for this reason: to break out, from time to time, of the fast-paced lives we've grown accustomed to living, to slow down and "be still" before the Lord.

Coming soon: new features!

Monday, November 17, 2008

deAnn Roe: Vertical Creativity

deAnn Alyse Roe is Director of Visual Arts at Living Word Community Church in York, PA. As Director, she is curator of the monthly art gallery exhibits and creates the sacred space installed for the season of Lent. She plans to offer classes on discovering creativity soon. She's also involved in the Spiritual Direction program at her church through which she meets with a small group of women every month and walks alongside them in their spiritual journeys.

deAnn's blog is Vertical Creativity. She says that God has put on her heart a passion to develop her creativity and meet with Him through her creative endeavors. She believes that spiritual formation through the arts is very real. It's her desire to explore this and offer her experience to others and encourage them in their own creative and spiritual journeys.

LeAnne: Your blog is called Vertical Creativity. What is the focus of it?

deAnn: The focus of my blog is to encourage people--from artistic dabblers to professional artists--to live into their God-given creative Imago Dei (image of God). I can't help but think there is a connection between our creativity and our spirituality. So, I try to help people think vertically about their creativity and to consider approaching it as prayer, which has great potential to deepen their relationship with Jesus. I call this practice, "sitting before the canvas," being fully present and in prayer. Your canvas may be a sketch pad, hunk of clay, your garden, computer keyboard, the viewfinder of your camera, or an actual canvas for painting, etc. Then create whatever bubbles up from within. 

I also post local art scene happenings hoping to encourage people to get out and interact with other people's creative endeavors. Vertical Creativity is currently a blog but by the beginning of the new year, it will be a website with an attached blog. I'm excited to see where God takes this ministry.

We are all created in God's image. Therefore, we all have the ability to creative. Vertical Creativity is a place of encouragement as we move along the creative journey.

LM: Why do you want to see people "live in their creativity?"

dR: I believe that we can meet with God in unique-to-us ways as we seek to discover and live in our creativity. God is Creator of everything beautiful and we can co-create beauty with Him. But it's hard to get past the negative inner critic we hear so often, that voice that tells us we are not creative, that we are not artistic, that it's a waste of time, that we have absolutely no ability. That squelches the Imago Dei that is within each of us. You never know what can be created through you until you take the time to try, and then allow God to surprise you!

More from deAnn Roe on Thursday.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Interview about Culture with Andy Crouch

Click on over to BeliefNet for this interesting interview with Andy Crouch, who wrote Culture Making: Rediscovering Our Creative Calling. Andy is editorial director for The Christian Vision Project at Christianity Today International, a member of the editorial board of Books & Culture, and senior fellow of the International Justice Mission's IJM Institute. His writing has appeared in several editions of Best Christian Writing and Best Spiritual Writing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Come and See

Today I want to call your attention to an article written by acclaimed artist, Makoto Fujimura. The article, called "Come and See: Leonardo da Vinci's Philip in The Last Supper," describes his experience with one of the most famous paintings of all time. Enjoy.

I hope to feature Fujimura soon.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

On Abstract Art

This morning I was checking out a new blog that looks interesting: Tolle Lege. I haven't explored it fully yet--I was actually drawn to it because the blogger quoted from Philip Graham Ryken's book, Art for God's Sake.  I read the book last year, I think, and found it helpful. 

Here's the passage I wanted to pass on to you today:

"Some Christians continue to think that certain forms of art are more godly than others. They make a sharp distinction between the sacred and secular, not recognizing that so-called secular art is an exploration of the world that God has made, and therefore has its place in deepening our understanding of God's person and work...

"What Christians tend to dismiss is abstract art, especially as it has come to expression in modern art. Yet abstraction has God's blessing as much as any other art form....

"Therefore, as Christians we are not limited to crosses and flannelgraphs, or to praise choruses and evangelistic skits. These simple forms may have their place in the life of the church, but God wants all the arts to flourish all the fullness of their artistic potential, so that we may discover the inherent possibilities of creation and thereby come to a deeper knowledge of our Creator" (pps. 34-35).

Monday, November 03, 2008

Last week, an artist friend of mine and I went to a special exhibition, Sculpture in Motion, at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. What we saw fascinated us. Here's some info:

"Amid lavishly blooming flowers and trees a collection of extraordinary sculptures comes to life at the Atlanta Botanical Garden. Sixteen artists capture the energy of the wind, water, sound, sun, magnetics and touch in more than twenty-five works of fine art. The dynamic sculptures move and shift forming endless compositions in perfect harmony with the beautiful gardens. This exciting exhibition is the most extensive survey of outdoor kinetic art ever held and includes some of the most prominent kinetic sculptors working today."

For an overview, click here.

For photos and descriptions of each work, click here. Some of them have YouTube links so you can see them actually in motion. But I found many of these works to be stunning even when they weren't moving. 

If I had to choose, my favorites were Kristina Lucas'  Masdevallia Extravaganza 2008 in the Orchid House and Tim Prentice's Yellow Zingers 2008 nestled outside in the trees.

Next week: a new feature

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