Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Women of Faith in Christchurch

Women of Faith

One of the most satisfying photography assignments I've had so far took place in Christchurch several months ago.  Our Director of Public Affairs in the area wanted to document just a few of the hundreds, (thousands), of women who continue to face challenges as a result of the recent devastating earthquakes.  The following women are different in many ways - age, lifestyle, careers.  But they have one thing in common- a firm knowledge that there is a God in Heaven who personally knows them, loves them and is helping them through their trials.  We interviewed them all and found that although they are ordinary women who possess neither wealth, power or prestige, they are remarkable in their positive outlook on life and their ability to move forward with hope and faith and lift all who know them.  My personal challenge was to photograph them in their environment, and in such a way as to capture a glimpse of who they are and what makes them so special.  We were truly inspired by these women and I only hope my photography does them justice! 

This is a young high school student with many talents.  She lives with her mother, and blesses the lives of others with her music.  We talked about the challenges she faces in school of finding friends who support her standards of morality and Christian faith, and how she helps her friends to resist peer pressure and not use drugs or participate in other destructive behaviors.  In this photograph she is waiting in their apartment for her mother to come home from work. 

This beautiful lady recently lost her husband of many years, after caring for him through a long illness.  Yet she was not depressed nor sad.  She believes her marriage will last through eternity, a principle taught in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, not just 'until death do you part' as most people believe.  She knows her separation from her eternal companion is only for a short time.  Until then she lives her life to the fullest, surrounded by children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends.  I photographed her sitting at her kitchen table with her flowers and picture of her handsome husband of earlier years.
This woman comes from a rich Samoan heritage.  She told us of a simple childhood life surrounded by a large, loving family.  Fishing and growing vegetables to feed family and relatives took up most of the family's days.  As society moves farther away from family ties and connections to the past, it is important to her to preserve and pass on her cultural heritage to her children.  I included a photo of her cherished grandmother that sits on her coffee table.

This accomplished woman teaches university statistics, math, computer science and has invented a math game app.  In addition, she is the mother of two sons, one who is blind and autistic, and the other who is also autistic.  She talked about the challenges of parenthood, and how she has been richly blessed and honored to be a mother.  Her personality was positive and upbeat.  I chose to photograph her in her tiny home office filled with bright colors to match her shirt, her stuffed animals,  calendar pictures stapled to the walls, and her computer and ipad which are her constant companions.

Overcoming an abusive marriage and difficult divorce, this woman found purpose and fulfillment in her artwork.  She grew up in a frugal family where she was taught to save, conserve, reuse and make do, and now she finds fulfillment in creating beautiful art out of materials which most people would throw away.  Her work can be found adorning the walls of schools and government buildings in her town. Here she is working on a current project.

This feisty 'young' woman believes in making a difference.  She has seen the devastating effects of alcohol abuse in her town, and is a vocal crusader who attends and participates in political and town meetings to speak out in favor of tougher alcohol related laws.  This lovely Maori lady also believes is serving others and spends her days volunteering at a local thrift store. She told us that one time a man came into the store needing a suit to apply for a job.  They didn't have one that would fit, but she said she had one at home he could have, and she brought it the next day. She has learned to be of strong character and hold to her values, yet live in peace with her husband of many years, who strongly and openly is opposed to her religious beliefs and community service.  We met and I photographed her at the thrift store.      

This young woman is posing with her 'miracle' baby, as she was told she would never have children.  They live in a modest home and she works out of her home as a seamstress, so that she can be a stay at home mommy.  I've photographed her in her living room which also serves as her sewing room.

An excellent university student and an accomplished pianist, this young woman has set high expectations for herself.  Her family moved to New Zealand in order to give their children a better education, and this encourages her to excel at her music and her studies.  She tells us she used to think she was independent and could do everything on her own, but now realizes that prayer and her faith in Jesus Christ is necessary for her to do her best.  I've photographed her studying at the Church institute building near her university.

As a divorced mom of teenagers,  this woman has learned to be the leader in her family.  
She desires to be a good example to her children by showing them how to be courageous in times of adversity.  She works for a program that assists mothers and children in her community and wants her own children to know the value of working hard to provide for one's own needs.  
We met her as she came home from work and visited in her living room where I took her photograph.

This is our Director of Public Affairs in Christchurch and she is a very remarkable woman.  Several years ago she was asked to volunteer in this position, and at that time she had no experience or education in public affairs.  After working tirelessly for several years she has become an expert at what she does and accomplishes.  She has developed close relationships with many local opinion leaders, members of parliament and other government officials, interfaith leaders and the media.  She has appeared on television and in the newspaper many times,  building and strengthening relationships between her community and the Church.  She has literally brought the Church out of obscurity in the Christchurch area, and turned attention to the humanitarian and service projects performed by the good people of our faith who are contributing to their community in positive ways.  In addition to this, she is working on a doctorate degree and she teaches at a Maori school.  And most importantly, she is the wife of a Bishop and mother to five active children.  I've photographed her correcting papers at school.

'Women of Faith' is her project and vision and we were so pleased to be able to assist her.  If all goes according to plan, you will be hearing more about 'Women of Faith' in the near future.