Menu
In the News

Church members’ stories inspire photographers, promotes unity

"Light & Life" exhibit photographers Leslie Nilsson, left, and Cody Bell pose for a portrait with so

"Light & Life" exhibit photographers Leslie Nilsson, left, and Cody Bell pose for a portrait with some of their photos in the background at the Church History Museum in Salt Lake City on Thursday, May 17, 2018.

Ravell Call, Deseret News, Deseret News


It wasn’t a typical evening in Salta, Argentina.

The streets were crowded with the sights and sounds of a local festival. Laughter, music and the smell of exotic food surrounded Leslie Nilsson, a staff photographer for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as he met with the Omar family, who gave him a tour of the area and the local shop they own.

“This is a beautiful family, he’s a bishop,” Nilsson said, then pointing to a photograph, “This is his wife and daughter. We walked through [the festival] and it was full of people and it was wonderful.”

A photograph featured in the new "Light and Life" exhibit at the Church History Museum which opened

"Luis Omar Cardozo," a photo taken in Salta, Argentina, in 2017 by Church staff photographer is one of 34 photos featured in the "Light and Life" exhibit.

Leslie Nilsson, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Nilsson learned that the family had recently experienced a tremendous shock. Bishop Omar’s only son, Sergio, had been called to serve a mission in Peru. Sergio’s spiritual growth had become evident to bishop Omar, and their letters to each other grew longer each week.

In 2015, Omar got a call from the mission president informing him that Sergio had died of a brain aneurysm. What was striking to Nilsson was not that the family had recovered, but Omar’s statement about his son.

“I can’t imagine how hard that would be, but that’s not what he said,” Nilsson said. “He said that he was glad the Lord took him at a time when he was strong in the gospel. To recognize that what he’s been burdened with is so much, that at another time he may not have been able to shoulder it. He was grateful that it came at a time when he could remain strong.”

A photograph featured in the new "Light and Life" exhibit at the Church History Museum which opened

"Victor Barbinyagra" was taken by Church staff photographer Leslie Nilsson in Kharkiv, Ukraine, in 2016.

Leslie Nilsson, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Nilsson and fellow Church photographer Cody Bell picked 34 photos to display in the Church History Museum’s exhibit, “Light & Life: Stories and Photographs of a Global Faith,” that highlight portraits of stories and people, like the Omar family, they’ve met while traveling through more than 24 countries on assignments for the Church. The photos were never intended to be compiled in a show, and many were taken spontaneously, Bell said.

At the beginning, Bell and Nilsson had hundreds of photos to choose from. Some finalists were picked due to their visual appeal, but many were chosen because of the stories attached, Bell said. As the narrowing process continued, the two photographers realized that there was something all the pictures had in common.

A photograph featured in the new "Light and Life" exhibit at the Church History Museum which opened

"Josephine Scere," one of the photos featured in the "Light and Life" exhibit was taken by Church staff photographer Leslie Nilsson in 2016 while in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Leslie Nilsson, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

“Reading the stories, you realize that you are not alone in your challenges, that people all over the world have challenges, sometimes much worse, sometimes maybe not as bad, but they have hope,” Nilsson said.

For both photographers, ‘Light & Life’ represents a version of the Church that not every member has a chance to experience. Nilsson believes that getting a taste of the true diversity found in members throughout the world helps break down misconceptions about what the Church really looks like.

“A lot of people have this misguided impression that it is an American church because Joseph Smith was American and the Church was founded here, but no, that’s really not true,” Nilsson said. “The Church is a worldwide Church. It’s a worldwide organization. The gospel is for all mankind, and you just don’t have to visit very many people for you to realize that it is perfectly tailored to every person on earth.”

A photograph featured in the new "Light and Life" exhibit at the Church History Museum which opened

A photo of Sevak Vardanyan, a member from Gyumri, Armenia, taken by Church staff photographer Leslie Nilsson in 2015.

Leslie Nilsson, Intellectual Reserve, Inc., Intellectual Reserve, Inc.

Taking photos in a foreign country can pose some difficult barriers. Taking photos where members feel comfortable in their environment can be even harder. Bell has had experiences where members were immediately comfortable with him bringing a camera into their home, but also remembers others when the subject wasn’t comfortable until they're “almost driving away.”

Seeing the Church with a global lens brings a greater understanding of how the gospel transcends cultural and language barriers, but also brings members together, Nilsson said.

That’s ultimately what the two have learned from their experiences up to this point, and what they hope others can take away from this collection: There is room for everyone in the Lord’s church.

“I hope they see themselves in these photos,” Nilsson said. “I hope they see themselves in the photos because they are a mother, or they’re a daughter, or they’re a father, or they’re a son and we know how people love each other and what that looks like. I hope that they will recognize that and maybe be able to extend that for all mankind.”

Newsletters
Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed