Like any form of art, photography with teens helps them make sense of their life, relationships and encourages growth.
As youth walk through the world they face several difficult things to navigate, including heartbreak, sexual development, friendship, drug and alcohol use, family dynamics and decisions about the future.
Being a mentor for youth, God has placed you in a unique position to help them make sense of it all. And art, with its many applications, is a great way to do so.
Do you incorporate photography with teens in your ministry? We’d love to know how in the comments below!
Just a Starting Point
There are countless ways to help teens process what’s going on in their lives. Art with teens is a helpful avenue with endless possibilities. We’ve put together a list of just five ideas in this blog series: art journaling, sculpture, painting, poetry, and photography.
No matter our age, we connect to our Creator as we live into our own creativity. God creates us and the world, and we’re a part of that collaborative process. Photography with teens is a cool way to experience this metaphor.
We hope these photography ideas are a starting point that leads to a connection with God, others, and self and that they help your youth make sense of their world.
Laying the Foundation for the Process
All of us, especially teens, develop through a process of trial and error. Art can be the same way as we create through play. We try a thing and see what happens, becoming familiar with the medium and adjusting along the way.
When making art as a form of spiritual formation, there is no specific goal except to listen internally. Each of your youth has a unique story and perspective. As you teach them to listen to the voice within, you facilitate their process of connection with God. So, assure them that there is no wrong way to engage.
When doing art with teens, help them trust their intuition, because it is the wisdom guiding them in their process of exploration and growth. As youth learn to trust this, they uncover who God has created and is creating them to be.
A Note on Lowering Anxiety
Many youth feel self-conscious and insecure when doing art. Art-making can build confidence, self-worth, and identity. But, anxiety can hinder this growth. So, help ease it with a few simple tactics.
First, when exploring photography with teens try starting by explaining that they have all they need within and around them. Also, assure them that they won’t be required to share any of their writing. Remind them that photography as a spiritual practice is about the process of connecting with God and themselves. It isn’t about the final product.
As an exercise to warm-up, show them several different types of photographs. Include a variety of genres and ones that show peak skill level and very little skill level. As they view the images, ask them to share as a group what each photo brings up internally for them. Highlight the fact that it doesn’t matter what the quality of a photo is, we connect to it in some way or another.
These tactics help the kids feel that talent isn’t as much a factor in their process and outcome. Now, let’s dive into a few ideas for exploring photography with teens!
Magazine Photo Exploration
In this exercise your students will learn to look at images critically, asking how they affect their view of self, God and the world.
First, prior to youth group cut out 2-3 times the number of magazine photos as you have students. Lay them out on the floor, so your youth can easily walk around and view them.
Next, invite them to choose an image that speaks to them.
Next, give them a chance to reflect on and write down what this communicates to them about the world, their feelings, the Divine, relationships, men and women, different types and ages of people, sexuality, -isms, justice, love, values, etc. Ask them to share their reflections and whether they agree with what the image portrays and how they might change it if they could.
To close, ask them how they might describe the power of photography in our minds and, therefore, our lives to create reality.
This exercise will alert your students to what is happening around and outside or them. They can begin to see God at work in the world as well as how the sacred can be present in the ordinary of life.
First, find a safe route to walk together as a group. Perhaps this is an activity to do while away on retreat together.
Next, invite your students to take time in silence bringing their awareness to the world around them: the quiet, the noise, the sights and smells, the breeze.
Then, for the next 10-15 minutes walk together quietly as a group and encourage the students to take photos (either using their phone or an SLR camera) of where they see God at work or things that bring to them a sense of connection to the Divine. (If not every student has access to a camera, pair students up and ensure that every pair has a phone to use.)
When you gather together for discussion, ask the students to share their photos if they’d like. Encourage them to share where they saw God at work and what they noticed or learned in the process.
Reflecting on the Past
This exercise will help your students think back on the past and take time to consider where God may be at work in their lives.
First, a couple weeks before, tell your students to look through old photos, either hard or digital copies. Invite them to bring in some that particularly remind them of times when God was at work in their life.
Next, when the students bring their photos to youth group give them a chance to share, either in small groups or in one large group. Give them the chance to describe what was happening at the time the photo was taken and how they felt or saw God present in the situation.
Lastly, thank the students for bringing in those parts of their lives to share. Ask them how this exercise may help them connect to God as they live life in the present.
We hope these ideas have inspired you to think of exploring photography with teens as a spiritual practice. Have you seen the power of photography with your youth? Don’t forget to tell us about it in the comments below!