A veteran fashion photographer who is used to having his works featured in Vogue, GQ and Elle, will release his most "rewarding" collection – "Journeys with the Messiah" – on Friday, the eighth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
"I was in New York prepping for a photo shoot a week after 9/11 and saw many people searching for something," recalled Michael Belk, who created the Jesus photo collection out of his Christian faith. "Similar to 9/11, I think many Americans don't know where to turn in the midst of the current worldwide financial crisis."
Belk says he hopes his "Journeys With the Messiah" collection will help people who are anxious and looking for answers to find peace by knowing there is someone to turn to.
The photos are a retelling of the stories of 1st-century Jesus to a 21st-century audience. Included in the collection are photos of Jesus with Nazis, prostitutes, Ferraris and motorcycles, as well as Wall Street executives and high rollers that creatively address modern-day social problems such as genocide, materialism, addiction, poverty, and hypocrisy.
In the photo entitled "The Second Mile," Jesus is shown walking and talking alongside a Nazi soldier. The messiah is carrying the soldier's backpack as well as his gun.
"Jesus' teachings on this subject (forgiveness) were revolutionary: 'Love your enemies as yourself. Pray for those who persecute you. Forgive people seventy times seven.' Jesus reminds us that, just as God forgives us, we are expected to do the same for others," wrote Belk in the accompanying journal entry for the photo.
Each of Belk's images is accompanied by a written journal entry of a 21st-century take on a 1st-century story or parable.
In another photo, "Rest for the Weary," a man in a suit and tie is shown collapsed on the steps of a building. His head rests on Jesus' lap while his suitcase is opened with papers scattered about.
"I am writing this in March of 2009 while the world is in a serious economic upheaval," Belk's journal reads. "Fortunes have been lost, retirement incomes are gone, and the basic necessities have become a struggle for man."
But then he writes, "In truth, we assign too much importance to issues that, in the end, will be of non consequence. Have you ever heard of a man on his deathbed who asked to see his stock portfolio one more time? Could the time we spend worrying be better spent in quiet, soothing fellowship with the One who created it all and promises more?"
The Christian photographer reminds the reader Jesus said not to worry but to "seek His Kingdom first" and God will take care of our needs. Also, Jesus invited those who are weary and burdened to find rest in Him.
"Maybe we should give it a try," Belk suggested.
One of the aims of the photo collection, the 61-year-old photographer said, was to strip away the "religion" part of Christianity that has turned so many people away, and share the core message of who Jesus was and what He taught.
Belk believes the photos carry messages that God wants to say to people in the world struggling with countless problems right now.
In 2008, despite the economic downturn, Belk took time off of fashion photography and spent his own money to finance the project that took more than a year and a half to complete. The project cost $600,000.
Pre-production took 10 months and more than 100 extras were needed. An Italian actor played Jesus and a production company from Rome and a film crew from the U.S. were hired.
Belk directed what he calls "the most grueling, but most rewarding shoot" of his career.
All of the photos were shot in Matera, Italy (filming location for "The Passion of the Christ").
The fashion photographer-turned-Jesus' camera man is considering to exhibit the collection worldwide in counterintuitive venues such as mass transit stations, corporate headquarters and projections onto urban buildings. He also hopes the images will be used in a greeting card line and small group curriculum.
Limited edition photographs, posters, 108-page photography book, DVD, and screensavers and wallpapers are available for sale. Proceeds from the sale of the photos will fund the worldwide exhibit tour.
On the Web: www.thejourneysproject.com