Vocation in a Vocation: On Photojournalism and Spirituality

By Jennifer Janviere

Father Doll, S.J., talks about approaching photography with compassion and empathy

Father Doll, S.J. talks about photographing land mine victims in Saravejo, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Photography isn’t a topic that most people closely associate with spirituality. As it turns out, however, the two have more in common than we might have ever imagined.

Father Don Doll, S.J. is living proof of the spiritual side of photojournalism. On a visit to Marquette University as part of the annual Mission Week celebration, Doll talked with students, faculty and friends of the Diederich College of Communication about his fascinating life’s work as both a Jesuit priest and photojournalist, something to which he referred as a “vocation in a vocation.”

Father Doll began his career as a photographer almost by accident, when he was a young Jesuit priest stationed on the Rosebud reservation among the Lakota Sioux. He learned to take photos out of necessity when tasked with developing marketing materials for the Native American tribe. He described the process as a struggle in the beginning, and talked about learning everything that he could about photography in those first few years. His hard work and dedication to the profession paid off, however, and soon Doll found himself teaching photography at Creighton University in Nebraska (where he still works today).

Doll’s work eventually broadened his reach from Native American culture to all parts of the globe. The experiences witnessed during his work with the Jesuit Refugee Service have provided the Jesuit priest with a first hand glimpse of both the beautiful and tragic nature of the human condition. Doll’s recent photos document land mine victims, refugees and battle scared people in Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka. They also capture the inner dignity and humanity that resonates within his subjects, reminding the viewer of the common threads that unite us all.

“Being a priest has everything to do with my photos,” he says of his work. “My Christian beliefs are at the heart of all my images.”

This is immediately apparent in the expressions on the faces of his subjects and the intimacy with which Doll’s work explores their lives. He talked about getting to know people before making his pictures and gaining trust by living in the communities where he shoots. One senses genuine compassion and respect when listening to the Jesuit priest talk about the subjects of his photographs.

Doll’s photography offers a view of the world that is at times intense and unflinching, but always beautiful in their honesty.

View photos from the 2011 Mission Week events in the Diederich College of Communication

Jennifer Janviere is an instructor and multimedia specialist for the Diederich College of Communication.

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The opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not represent the views of Marquette University or the Diederich College of Communication.

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