Famed fashion photographer Michael Belk used to shoot designer ad campaigns that appeared in high-end magazines including Vogue, Elle and Vanity Fair among others, but after much soul searching, he began to use his talent to focus on faith-based photography instead. Now, Belk is gearing up to shoot a second installment of images that feature Jesus living in modern times as an extension to his 2009 project, "Journey with the Messiah."
The former project began after what Belk says was a visit from God during his darkest hour. Upon getting past the religious aspect of finding Him, he found that Jesus was not only relevant 2,000 years ago, but also in the modern world, which was a realization that he translated into his work.
Belk's compelling photographs captured "first century Jesus" interacting with 21st century Wall Street executives, high rollers, Nazis and people of questionable character; and the second volume of images, which has yet to be photographed, will embrace a similar theme.
"Based on the image concepts that have been developed to date, the 'modern-day relevance' element will be even more obvious than it is in volume one," said Belk to The Christian Post. "As in volume one, I do not sit around thinking up images. Ideas for explaining the messages of Jesus come to me and usually the concept for the image to depict that message follows. I pretty much know when God is sending an idea."
The initial project that Belk took on, without a salary, cost $600,000 from his own funding. However, with revenue from those images that have been interpreted into a coffee table book, posters and a DVD, along with donations from the "Journeys with the Messiah Foundation," he hopes to fund the second series of photos, set to be taken in the Spring of 2014.
"Although 'Journeys with the Messiah' has now sold over 12,000 books, thousands of DVDs, posters and is nearing 200 pieces of the original fine art collection, all of that money has been poured back into the project's inventory and marketing," said Belk. "I like to think that we have a well-designed race car that has been around the tracks a few times and is now poised to race into the future. We just need a tank of gas to move on."
After taking a hiatus from the first installment of images, Belk says he decided to pick up the project again because he did not want to hold off any longer.
"We have had our [Jesus] actor on retainer since the first shoot. He is now 38, and we would like to get the second volume in the can now. Of course, there is never a guarantee that he or I will be around. So, I just feel the need to move forward," said Belk.
Once the photographs are published, they will be sold but the foundation will also give them to hospices, hospitals, counseling centers, and prison and youth ministries and other organizations "where having a visual connecting to Jesus will be relevant in someone's life," said Belk.
In the past, his Jesus photography has also been gifted to chaplains in Iraq and Afghanistan. He will also tour more than 500 churches in the country to present the images in an audio and visual presentation.
Now that Jesus photography is Belkin's newfound passion, he is embracing his projects as opportunities to present God to people, which he initially did not expect to be the case.
"It was always my plan to produce this project and return to the fashion world. That did not happen. First, the project took so much more time and money than planned. The housing and stock markets crashed in the midst of creating it," said Belk.
He added, "So, even if I had wanted to go straight back into the fashion world, many clients went out of business during that time and others drastically cut their ad budgets. Ultimately, however, I believe that I was created and trained for this moment in time and I love traveling and speaking to audiences about Jesus through these images."