Matt Knisely is an Emmy Award–winning photojournalist, storyteller, creative director, and artist who loves telling stories of the extraordinary in the ordinary. He serves as the creative director for Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas. Matt is cofounder of Good World Creative, a creative cooperative focused on meaningful visual storytelling to help nonprofits tell their story and enhance their brand. Additionally, he consults with some of today’s leading churches, helping them reenvision the power of story and the creative process.
He is also the author of Framing Faith: From Camera to Pen, An Award-Winning Photojournalist Captures God in a Hurried World. His work has been featured on ABC World News, BBC News, CNN, PBS, NBC, and Fox News.
**To win a copy of Framing Faith, leave a comment on this blog post by July 14th (be sure to include your email address) and I’ll choose 3 winners at random.**
KW: What events or experiences led to your desire to become a photojournalist?
MK: For as long as I can remember, I have always been drawn to a good story and how each story has a profound purpose. Growing up in a family of storytellers, I saw how story had the ability to comfort, heal, enrage, glorify, or vilify.
So along with the fascination of story, I began to find myself constantly drawn to photography. I remember getting my first camera in second grade. It was a Kodak Colorburst 100 Instant Camera—the Kodak version of a Polaroid. I can remember loading the cartridge and pulling the shutter release like an AK-47 leaving the captured 4×3 images strewn in my wake like spent shotgun shells on the ground. Man, I loved that camera!
It was somewhere woven into these early moments of tinkering around with merging the medium of photography with storytelling that I discovered what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to help people tell their stories. And not just with pen and paper, but with pictures and sound.
KW: Do you have a favorite photo? Or can you describe what elements make photos especially meaningful to you?
MK: In a day and age where there are millions and millions of photographers and 350-million photos are uploaded every day to Facebook there seems to be something missing for me. Maybe it was the feeling of picking up the small 5×6 envelope with negatives neatly tucked into their special pouch. Perhaps it was the faint smell from the developing chemicals still clinging to each print. Or it might have been the excitement I had when I thumbed through each photograph to see the fruits of my labor.
Call me a romantic, but there is something fantastic that happens when you hold a photo in your hands. It’s intimate. It’s personal and eternal. To me, they took away the romance of photography when everything went social. To me, photographs are lasting reminders of what has come to pass, whether good or bad. They can bring comfort in tough times and joy in simple times. They are, in a sense, a vivid story imprinted on the humble material of paper and plastic. Photographs are a testament to our lives. They are the story of our lives.
Photograph for me is a glimpse of life itself. A split second of eternity, captured forever. It is a slice of someone’s life that is suspended in time exactly as it was in that precise moment. CLICK!
Photographs are timeless, wordless, soundless pieces of our lives. I have a vast selection of images that I cherish as some of my most prized possessions. Just recently I found one photograph that I did not even know existed until combing through photo albums at my parents house. It’s an image that stands above all the rest for me. It’s a photo filled with happiness. I was two-years-old. My dad and I are standing at the edge of the sea holding hands. My how time has passed and how the world has changed. When I look at this image all of the tensions and worries that I may have get swept out into the deep waters, leaving me with all the sweetness of the world.
KW: How has photography shaped how you view and live out your faith?
MK: As a photographer, I firmly believe a life worth living is a life worth recording.
I love capturing moments. Collecting them. Preserving them. Most of all, I enjoy experiencing them, because they bring defining moments of significance into focus. It’s in these subtle moments I see vivid beauty. They also offer a deeper understanding of how the moments in our lives allow God to sculpt us into something beautiful that is our own unique reflection of Christ.
God is at eye level. He helps us make great photos with our lives. Just as we are photographers, capturing images through the lens of a camera, cementing that image for all time, so, too, are we depictions to others of life and love for God. After he released his shutter in the sky, creating us and placing his divine signature on our lives, we became his representations, made in his image as living expressions of his holy presence in humanity.
KW: What can others learn about faith and intentional living through your photography analogies in the book?
MK: One of the secrets to capture the undiscovered is through proper framing. Great framing gives a photo context by illuminating the scene or subject in such a way that the viewer can know where the photo was taken; it’s about drawing attention to the appropriate place. A well-framed image has a way of intriguing and pulling the audience into the story, taking them on a journey and bringing the photo to life. However, if the photographer’s mind is elsewhere and he distractedly snaps an image, the magic of the story is lost and the photo becomes just another snapshot.
The parallel to life is a clear one. If we live our lives distractedly, the magic of the moment can get lost amidst the noise and blur and buzzing of our lives. Framing and then shooting life through a camera lens truly challenges us to bring out the best we can. Otherwise if we continually let go of the moments that are right in-front of us and our lens, we let go of who we are and we lose ourselves.
KW: What did you learn through the process of writing the book?
MK: Writing is a funny thing. You start out writing one thing and end up with something completely different. Just like there are many ways to go through life, by just going through the motions, or going through life being present and truly taking advantage of the world around you. I realized in the process of writing Framing Faith that the present moment is all we have; that the life we are living is about the here and the now. And while, we don’t think about that when the intensity of life is breathing down our back, but it’s a great way to take advantage of our life and to find a sense of peace and calm in the middle of a stressful and chaotic world. I re-discovered the power of being present. I learned to STOP! I Stop scrolling. Tweeting. Instagramming. I learned to put down the phone. To take one minute. To not read. Not talk. I slowed down and discovered faith happens in the subtle moments of life.
KW: What do you see as the biggest road block to living in the moment?
MK: The biggest hurdle is ourselves, because we allow the false priorities that our current culture imposes on us, to dictate our days and cause us to loose sight of what is truly important.
KW: What do you hope people will take away from the book?
MK: Tough question, because anyone who reads Framing Faith will ultimately find something deeper and different than originally intended.
My prayer ever since I typed the first words was that people begin to look for more. Open their eyes wider. Focus. Find coherency. Uncover meaning and display a sense of wonderment in the Story, and moments, God has given them. Like a good photographer, God wants us to look for more, develop perspective, and find the moments right in front of us. He wants us to connect the seemingly unconnected, find what has been overlooked, and worry less about what we do and more about who we become. God wants to turn our lives upside down and use us in magnificent, unexpected, world-changing ways if we can just be present. In many ways I want people to stop looking at life from a one-dimensional, self-centered perspective, and open their eyes to see a fuller, richer, more vivid life, so they can begin capturing the beautiful moments now . . . today . . . immediately. Not to waste one more day letting life pass you by and going to bed with regrets at what was missed.