Photos by Roost Photography
They say you shouldn’t feed your “trolls,” but there I was on a random Thursday morning eating pancakes with mine. My troll — let’s call him Tyler — had recently made it his mission to let me know how wrong and dangerous I was and to make sure that everyone else knew as well. What masochistic desire had led me to invite “Tyler” to breakfast? I mulled over this question for three hours as I shared food and coffee with Tyler. Rather than argue or attack, I asked lots of questions about his life, hopes, and dreams. It’s harder to hate over pancakes. It's harder to dehumanize when you’re making eye contact. My only goal was that Tyler might see me as a human being instead of a Twitter handle.
It’s harder to hate over pancakes. It's harder to dehumanize when you’re making eye contact. My only goal was that Tyler might see me as a human being instead of a Twitter handle.
After breakfast, we never became friends, and he had little interest in embracing my progressive agenda for life, faith, and marriage. But the trolling stopped. And, somewhere deep inside, I think we were able to see our shared humanity and make room in our inner world for the other person to exist.
I share this story for many reasons. I think it's easy to feel like our enemies are the people who don’t get it. We label them trolls and haters, and often rightly so, and yet creating a world where there is room for everyone starts in my own heart. I refuse to allow my humanity to be reduced to an alley brawl where everyone exists in the lizard brain of fight or flight. While most of us are more drawn to the sexy kinds of badass confrontational activism, which are amazing, sometimes it is pancakes that plant a seed of subversive empathy. Something powerful happens when trolls begin to recognize their shared humanity with the very people they hate.
Photography is a medium uniquely positioned to disrupt the traditional narratives and capture something else, something new.
While we are on the subject of subversive empathy, let's talk a little about what photographers get to do. We get to visually tell people’s stories. There is a huge temptation with every photo we take and post and share to reinforce the monolithic stereotypes of love and relationship. Honestly, we will be rewarded for this by the masses on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and basically everywhere else. But photography is a medium uniquely positioned to disrupt the traditional narratives and capture something else, something new. When we take our photography to the next level we can capture the stories of unique couples living out their own new and different version of a love story. And maybe if we capture it with authenticity and integrity, rather than just sticking them in front of a waterfall, we can allow people to make eye contact with two humans they might have dismissed, overlooked, labeled, or even hated. It's harder to hate the humanity you see.
We do not have to accept the role of commodity wedding photographers shooting all the same stuff. Each photo is an opportunity to spread contagious empathy even in an environment that has stopped listening to words.
Brandon Brown of Roost Photography has always loved taking photographs. Early in grade school he used to steal his dad’s Minolta 35mm and use up all the film. In middle school he had a vintage Polaroid and spent far too much of his parents’ money on packs of film. His graduation gift from his parents was a 35mm camera that he wore out in 13 months. Through all this, he never thought of himself as a photographer — just someone who took lots of pictures. And so, for many years he led a secret double life as a ‘paparazzi’ — taking tens of thousands of photos each year of landscapes, beautiful people, students, his own family, and whatever else he found interesting.
In 2014, following an unexpected "opportunity" to rethink his life — a dizzying, high-elevation, total re-imagining kind of opportunity — he decided he wanted to be a “real” photographer. While it was scary at first, being a photographer has been one of the most exhilarating and rewarding choices he has made.