I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Tom Kilpatrick, an adjunct art professor who specializes in photography. His story is saturated with God’s faithfulness, and his view of photography and art as a whole is steeped in who God created us to be, image bearers, and as such, creative beings.
EB: Why did you choose photography out of all the other art forms?
TK: A couple of reasons. One, I like photography because I feel like it is the best of science and art. You have to know some [science] as well as the aesthetics. And I like it because it gives me freedom to [make] a larger volume of images, using a variety of techniques and printing processes
EB: You’ve said in class that you’ve traveled all over the world. Do you have a favorite place you’ve traveled? Why so?
TK: I enjoy primitive areas a great deal more than big cities. I love third world countries, I love the culture, I love the people. It’s a whole different kind of atmosphere. I thoroughly enjoy P&G (Papua New Guinea), and Liberia, Africa and those places like that.
EB: When you went those places, did you go specifically to photograph things?
TK: I went there to photograph for missions. I was there to document what they were doing for their presentations and magazines.
EB: How did you come to know Christ?
TK: I grew up in a little country village in Mississippi, and the church was in sight of my house. There was nothing else to do. I hate to say it like that, but it was just the thing to do. So I went to church a lot, and heard the gospel a lot, and came to know the Lord as a young teenager.
EB: How has knowing Christ shaped your view of photography?
TK: I believe the Genesis account of creation where God says I am created in His image. I think that also means that I am created with gifts of creativity, and to reflect the image of God, I need to express those gifts to glorify God.
EB: Tell me about your family.
TK: Growing up, I was the oldest of six kids. When I was born, my dad was a sharecropper in Mississippi, so we grew up pretty poor. I remember one day, saying to my mom, “We are so poor,” and she just came unglued. She said, “Don’t you ever let me hear you say that again. Have you ever been hungry?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Have you ever needed a place to sleep?” And I said, “No.” And she said, “Then you’re not poor. And don’t ever think that way.” I’ve always really appreciated her saying that because it gave me a whole new perspective, and now when I’m in those [third world] countries, I have a whole new view of what it’s like to have absolutely nothing.
I left home when I was seventeen to go to college. After college, I moved to Chicago to go to school, and I was teaching in public schools. I met my wife at the school where I was teaching. When I met her, she was not a believer and there was no way I was going to date her. We talked a lot, and at Christmas break I said, “Why don’t you read the book of John over the break?” And she did. When she came back, she had already made a confession in her heart. Once we got that squared away, then it was game on. In February, we were engaged. In March, we were married.
We lost our first child when she was two years old. Then we had two sons. When we lost our daughter, we were at the funeral home, and we were reading the passage where David had lost his child, and David said, “The child can’t come to me, but I can go to the child.” We were familiar with that passage, but the very next verse makes an interesting statement. It says, “And David knew his wife, and Solomon was born.” We knew that night God would give us a son. It was the peace you experience with God. Well, we brought him home from the hospital on her birthday the next year. We saw God do some amazing things.
In 1994, my wife had gone to the dentist, and the dentist said “There’s a place on your tongue, and I don’t like the looks of it, so we need to do a biopsy.” So they did a biopsy, and discovered that she had cancer of the tongue. They did surgery, took the cancer out, and they thought that was it. Well, three or four years later it came back.
[She had] surgery again; again it came back. This went on over a period of ten years. In ‘04 she had a doctor’s appointment in January and the doctor said, “You’re cancer free, there’s nothing here.” Of course, we were really happy to hear that. When she saw another doctor in August he said, “We have to do a biopsy today.” They did a biopsy, and said, “It’s cancerous, and we have to do surgery immediately.”
They took half of her tongue out and all of the lymph nodes in the right side of her neck. When she came through from the surgery and the anaesthetics, she said, “The song ‘Grace Alone’ played through my mind the whole time I was out.” It was that kind of grace that God gave her that really was so wonderful.
That was in August, in May the next year, she went home to be with the Lord. Throughout that whole time, she had an incredible peace that God had given her. [She] never complained, never asked why, was never bitter about anything. That experience was comfort, just knowing that God’s presence was with us.
The stories of older and wiser saints and the ways in which God has borne witness to their suffering and been faithful to them is something that is absolutely priceless. Let this be an encouragement to ask about and listen to the stories of the generations before ours. Thank you for sharing, Professor Kilpatrick. It was a gift and a comfort to me, and I am sure it will be the same for all who read it.