Mormonism in Pictures: Through the Lens of Staff Photographers

Images of everyday Latter-day Saints represent global Church

Photo Essay

“This show is a show of hope and a faith,” said Cody Bell, staff photographer of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Thirty-four large-scale images taken by Bell and fellow staff photographer Leslie Nilsson are on display at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City until January 2019.

The exhibition, titled “Light and Life: Stories and Photographs of a Global Faith,” features photographs of Latter-day Saints in their natural surroundings captured by Bell and Nilsson in 24 countries on six continents in the past five years. The following are some of the images and background stories on display.

                                                   

“There's such a diversity of stories in this exhibit,” said Bell. “We can see ourselves in these images and in this circumstance and either have empathy or compassion for those in the story and help us understand Christ and understand the Church in a better way.

“I've gained hope from them,” added Nilsson. “There are people on the walls here who have been abused, who have been discarded, who have suffered terrible things really and oftentimes difficulties that don't go away. Yet they have hope.”

                                                       

Ionut Siminiuc of Iasi, Romania, suffered brain damage from a difficult birth. His mother, Genoveva, has given him constant care for 29 years.

“She goes to church on Sunday because she needs the strength from the sacrament,” said Nilsson.

                            
                       

Twelve-year-old Fabian H. of Antofagasta, Chile, enjoys sharing the gospel with others. He goes out with the missionaries several times a week as he prepares to serve a future mission. “He wants to be a good missionary,” said Nilsson. “Show me any other 12-year-old who goes planning for a mission like that?” 

                      

“To say I love these people, I love them all, even John O’Connell here,” remarked Nilsson, who met the widower in Limerick, Ireland, a couple of months after his wife died following 25 years of marriage. O’Connell spends much of his time now working on family history.

“I think that my two greatest decisions were to join the Church and to get married,” said O’Connell.

                     

While cleaning their apartment in Montevideo, Uruguay, 9-year-old Guiermo M. found a photograph of his grandfather. He looked in the mirror and discovered the family resemblance.

“We'll spend a block of time in people's homes, and our instruction to them is to just live their life as if we weren’t there,” said Bell. “Our hope is to capture things in a really honest and authentic way.”

 
                       

Josephine Scere is a single mother living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. “I wish you could meet her,” said Nilsson. “Despite her challenges, she is strong and tries to attend the temple every week. Her faith inspires me.”

“Life is hard whether you’re a Latter-day Saint or not. My strength comes from my relationship with my Savior and with my son,” she said.

                   

Sevak Vardanyan is a local priesthood leader in Gyumri, Armenia. “He's an artist, a very humble man,” said Nilsson. His grandmother had instructed him to look for the missionaries after she had met them almost a hundred years before he joined the Church.

Vardanyan said, “The gospel is a wonderful blessing in my life. I felt alone before I joined the Church, but now I have friends in the gospel.”

                  

In Tirana, Albania, Zhuljeta Cela goes through the belongings of her daughter who moved to Germany to be near her father.

“That's a hard thing to do for a parent — to have your child live away from you. And I really felt compassion for her,” described Bell. [There are] a lot of red tones in that photograph. It's kind of by accident. I just thought it was a really simple and kind of a sad image. But she recognizes her daughter's agency and wants to honor that and let her live closer to her father to have a relationship with him.”

                 

Also in Tirana, Donika Kashari is an active member of the Church, while her husband, Banish, is not a member.

“We have to work in faith,” said Bell, who took that image in the Kashari home several years ago. He said the photographers pack light and are often led to the families in the photographs.

“Working in this way, where we're listening to inspiration, being directed to families and photographing them and listening to them and loving, is the best way I've seen my work done well,” he explained.

                

Murilo Vicente Leite Ribeiro, pictured with his family, serves as a stake president in Goiânia, Brazil. Ribeiro was baptized as a teenager. As he prepared to serve a mission, his parents refused to let him to go.

“This was the hardest time in my life. I felt inferior to my friends who had already left on missions, and I felt alone at church,” Ribeiro recalled.

His depression lifted when he met his wife. He has since baptized his parents and brothers and assisted many young people in serving missions.

               

In 2014, Bell captured Elder Casas and Elder Sabunod walking the narrow streets of Manila, Philippines. Elder Casas spent the last day of his two-year mission reaching out to the people he came to love.

Bell said, “The thing about being a photographer is we fail so many times. We take thousands of photographs and usually only select a few of the best. That's really a result of just letting people be themselves.”

              

Bettina Monni of Rome, Italy, experienced postpartum depression after the birth of her first child. “It was a wonderful time in my life because I had a son, yet I could not experience this joy because of depression,” said Monni, who found comfort in a general conference talk given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles that spoke of depression.

Bell said, “I leave their homes feeling inspired to be a better person. I see their goodness, and that's inspiring me. My hope is that by me being there and being able to capture as much of this as I can that whoever views the images will have that same kind of experience, a commitment to be a better husband or father or neighbor.”

             

Walter Flores and his wife were the first indigenous people to be baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Paraguay August 24, 1982. They became ambassadors of the Church to other indigenous colonies. They are pictured at their home in Comunidad Tovacón, Paraguay.

“If you look at the pictures in 50 years, to us it's important that we didn't influence it. We didn't arrange that. That's what life really is like,” said Nilsson.

“All of us have challenges whether we share them or not. Here are a few people who have shared their burdens, and I hope that we can gain hope from them and strength and faith and recognize I belong with this brotherhood and sisterhood of people all over the world,” he concluded.

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