I have been in a transitional phase in my work.

I’ve been spending the past year and a half just developing the technical aspect of my work to be “good.” All this time I’ve just been practicing. The content, style, and message were never intentional- photography was my first real exposure to an art form. 

Recently I’ve been trying to find more meaning in my work which has turned me in a lot of directions, mostly in the direction of just quitting & finding something different to develop in and learn from. I felt like I hit a few cornerstones in my work that satisfied my desires to be “successful” in what I was doing thus dimmed my need to prove to myself that I was decent at the craft I was working towards. It’s not that I thought I was great or anything, the risky feeling of not being good at what I was applying myself at was just gone. Also, architecture demands a lot from life so it was easy to shift my focus away from photography.

Anyways- here’s what I’ve been learning in my search to find meaning behind art. I mean if I plan to pursue a form of it I want to live meaningfully. Art is an expression- what shall it express?

At first I considered style, taste, personality- which influenced a photo’s colors, aesthetic, edginess of the subjects, extremities in the lifestyle portrayed. I actually found this to be pretty easy to find around instagram- fictional characters that offered a vicarious experience from someone’s else’s shoes- someone we kinda want to be without the risk of living the way they did. Definitely interesting, but couldn’t justify committing so much to a single lifestyle/aesthetic. Wrote that off my list.

Direct messages- I’ve seen a lot of artists committing themselves to a cause. A cause of social movement, set of ethics, religion, motivation to a hobby, a mindset… This was cool because people were not limited to a medium or aesthetic. At the end of the day, it was about the message so the art was flexible as a means to portray said cause. This was cool, but the message itself was an extremity. If there was a personality represented in their work, it was a fictitious one as well. “Work hard anywhere” - motivational people & messages were great additions for a social media news feed, they served as reminders to be a certain somebody. It just felt unreal and unreliable sometimes since no one is as 100% to anything as the “artists” were.

Other artists’ substance were the skill behind their work. I respect that immensely, it’s just that- I felt like it wasn’t helping anyone. It can be a beautiful experience, many people intend their work to be temporary feel-good moments for others. Which is fine! I don’t know, for me I want it to be meaningful long-term for people.

I received counsel from people, there were a few things that have stuck with me. I believe people should be original, by using their personal stories and surroundings to tell a story through their own individual means… otherwise work just ends up being like something we’ve already seen or heard before. Easier said than done. I believe work is meaningful when it can help other people. People have a wide range of what it means to help people. For me it’d be dope if I could be honest about my struggles to love God to be invitational to others. Anyways, I think one of the most impactful suggestions I’ve received was to depict Biblical emotions through photography. I’ve seen a lot of Christian artists being extremely up-front & straightforward with what they stand for & what they suggest for other people. It can be helpful & encouraging, but there’s no realism in it- what about common struggles and discouragements people face every day? I’m definitely an unhappy person more often than happy, so I found it to be more irrelevant than not. The other side for me is too raunchy.. Some people art overtly “real” & lose the sense of hope and redemption that should be paired with the message of struggle and darkness.

I think music is the most developed in what I’m talking about… when vulnerability/honesty meets hope in Biblical truth. “Help me pray this prayer, to desire to desire…” For me these have been such strong helpers in my journey to follow Jesus. Like the messy prayers prayed in messier times in the OT [Hosea 6] or the struggling Psalmists who have met their match [Psalm 119]. Jason Upton, Gungor, Daniel Bashta, Chris Renzema & many hymns have been my biggest inspiration in fantastic examples of what content I would like to create. I guess it’s just my story/testimony of my struggles & failures overcome by God’s grace & faithfulness to me shown through photos.

This is all future work- my work is lagging behind me… I guess this is me wanting to return my talents two-fold [Matthew 25:14-30] to be a messenger & invitation to others. This is not me saying that I think I my work IS meaningful or that I am anything great. I am a struggling lil’ boy, but I’ve been saved by grace! So this is my battle, to overcome using my work & time to self-promote and be fluid & flexible servant to live an invitational life.

And the master said to the servant, “Go out to the highways & hedges & compel people to come in, that my house may be filled. [Luke 14:23]

Christian Haahs

Chicago based Photographer specialized in Marketing, Branding, Digital/Analog Photography and Architecture. Varied works can be viewed through the site. For any inquiries, please find yourself on the contact page.