Priests share photographic talent to convey messages

    As the old saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.”
    If that’s the case, three priests from the Diocese of Gary have years’ worth of homilies tucked away in their photographic archives. 
    “I can express more in a picture than I can say,” said Father Jaime Perea. “A picture is like a Gospel passage when we come to Mass. Some people get one message and other people get another, but the gospel is the same … every picture tells a story.”
    Father Perea, Father Ian Williams and Father Gerald Schweitzer have all found photography a way of bringing God into focus, not only for themselves, but for those who gaze upon their photos. 
    Each priest expressed how they experience God’s presence through photography, whether scenery or people.
    “Photography is a good medium to connect to God,” remarked Father Schweitzer, a senior priest living in Chesterton.
    For Father Williams, “Nature photography is my favorite. This past fall I took a trip out west to visit a number of our national parks, including Yellowstone, and had a great time capturing the beauty of God’s creation in those places. I enjoy showing others pictures I have taken and looking back over them myself. But what I really love about photography is that it forces me to stop and really look and think about what I am seeing.”
    While shooting pictures, Father Williams strives to set aside any agenda or preconceptions and, “allow the photographic subject to fill me up and guide me to the best shot. There is the opportunity through photography to immerse and lose yourself in the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. The Holy Spirit is opportunistic!”
    Father Williams has also captured events and activities around the three LaPorte parishes he pastors, Sacred Heart, St. Joseph and St. Peter. The photos have found their way into church bulletins, parish websites and parish directories.
    “I had a great time taking candids of summer activities at CYO camp and the annual TAPT retreat (both traditionally held at Camp Lawrence),” said Father Williams.
    “When I take pictures, especially nature, I always feel God’s creation. It’s perfect. It’s beautiful. It leads me to God. When I see a scene or something beautiful and I want to take a picture, I think about God and his creation,” said Father Perea, who is now serving at St. Joseph the Worker in Gary. 
    Father Schweitzer has gained quite a following (roughly 2,000) on social media where, for the past 10 years, he has sent out  morning and evening emails which include one of his photos with a Scripture verse or quote. 
    “As the computer age developed and I got into biblical mailings, my pictures became even more important to me. It makes it more personable using my own photos,” said Father Schweitzer. “I can connect prayers and thoughts and biblical stuff with pictures and give a different feeling and attitude to people settling back in the evening or getting ready for their adventures of the day. It’s wonderful being able to go back and look at all the photos I have on the computer.”
    Father Schweitzer has had his work displayed in several art exhibits, published several books of his photographs and donated prints to charity auctions.
    “People admire your work more than you do yourself,” he said. “I get the most (feedback) when people interpret their sense of a picture from what they see and how it affects them. I don’t want them to see what I shot as much as I want them to see, within that shot, what gives them a certain feeling.”
    All three men developed an interest in photography at a young age.
    “My mother had one of those box cameras, and I have many of her pictures. That was my inspiration, and it became more effective when I was ordained almost 50 years ago,” recalled Father Schweitzer. He also was influenced by his dad’s cousin, Art Schweitzer, a photographic historian for Schererville.
    Father Williams recalls that one of his favorite family activities was, “when my dad would pull out the slide projector and mom would cook up some popcorn,” and the family would spend hours looking at slides of his dad’s service in the Navy, stationed in the Mediterranean. “Slide show nights took our whole family to Europe via dad’s pictures. I loved it and decided that I wanted to learn photography,” said Father Williams.
    Father Williams took photography classes in high school, learning various aspects of the art, including developing black-and-white film and prints. In college, he “spent many hours developing and printing black-and-white pictures.”
    The seed was planted for Father Perea at a young age as well.
    “Since I was a child, my dream was to have a camera, but my parents didn’t have the money,” explained Father Perea. Growing up in Mexico, he recalled watching people taking photos.
    “When a child wants a toy, they’ll play with it and put it aside. This was something different,” he recalled. At about age 15, he had saved enough money to buy a small film camera. 
    “At the beginning, I wanted to take pictures of my family and people, and I sent the film in to be processed,” said Father Perea. The cost of film and processing limited his shots.
     “I was a little disappointed,” he admitted of his early efforts, but while in the seminary, he bought a digital camera and didn’t waste any time. “I volunteered to be a photographer during the seminarians’ trip to Holy Land,” he recalled.
    For Schweitzer and Perea, the transition to digital photography was welcome, but the nostalgia and “character” of film made going digital a struggle for Father Williams. 
    He took the plunge after his film camera developed mechanical problems at Glacier National Park. “I begrudgingly bought a point-and-shoot digital camera. I thought of it as being better than nothing,” confessed Father Williams, who later upgraded to a DSLR camera.
    Father Perea said photography has helped him “zoom in” on some areas of his life. “Photography has taught me patience and humility,” he said. “It’s a good stress reliever.”