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"Nature is a sign pointing to God. I’m not creating this. I’m taking a picture of something that somebody has already done, and just showing it to you.”
CBN.com If you’ve ever felt like your life is just a little too clean, you might want to try coming to work for a day with Stephen Kirkpatrick. He’s a wildlife photographer, and he likes it.
“My office is a swamp, a coral reef, a mountain top, and a jungle,” Stephen says.
Stephen’s passion for photography began 25 years ago on the day Stephen became a Christian. That was the day he felt God saying this to him: “I want you to go out there into that place you love more than anything else – nature -- and I want you to take pictures of everything you see out there. I want you to show those pictures to anybody that will look at them and tell them I made all of that.”
So Stephen took that command to heart. Since that day, he’s made nature photography a way of life. And if capturing award-winning nature scenes is your goal, there’s one place you can’t miss – the Amazon.
“It’s green and it’s wet, and nothing’s going anywhere.”
It’s also over one billion acres of tropical rainforest -- much of it trackless jungle. Its beauty is legendary, but Stephen knows that capturing that beauty isn’t easy."
“I had been to the Amazon in 1993,” he says. “In 1994 the trip got canceled. In 1995 they called me and set up this trip, so I was ready. We took off on this journey, and it was set up as a photography trip into an unexplored area.”
But in the jungle, things rarely go as planned. This time Stephen was in for much more than he bargained for.
“We went 60 miles upriver on a boat,” he recalls. “We were handed a map drawn on a napkin, and we got three young guys to carry the gear. On the second day they dropped it in the middle of the trail and went home.”
Anything that could have gone wrong did, and before the first day was over, the team wasn’t sure they’d ever make it back.
“The physical part was hard. There was a lot of stuff that was poisonous, a lot that could hurt you. A blister could turn into a life-threatening disease. We didn’t eat for 12 days. I lost 36 pounds. We drank water out of the swamps, because there was no other place to get water.”
But it wasn’t so much the physical misery of the trip that got to Stephen. He found his biggest challenge was mental and spiritual.
“You just want to run,” he says. “You don’t even care if you’re going in the right direction. You just want to go. The mental part for me was…I was there with three kids starving to death. I couldn’t pay my credit card bills or anything else. I’m supposedly here to take award-winning pictures, and I’m told I can’t take pictures!”
But things kept getting worse. After almost a week of trying to find civilization, the team was riding in a canoe when they collided with a motorboat moving at high speed. Stephen was badly injured, his equipment lost, and he found himself alone, clinging to a log in the river, wondering if he’d ever see his team or his family ever again.
“It was the lowest point but yet the highest point, because when I climbed up on that log, I realized that this trip isn’t about National Geographic covers. This trip is about faith, and it’s about trusting God regardless of the circumstances. It was just a revelation, and after that, it was easy.”
Soon after, Stephen was rescued by his companions. A few days later, they reached civilization. He arrived back in the States a few days before Thanksgiving, and his first phone call was to his mother.
“The first thing I told her on the phone [was] ‘For Thanksgiving, I am saying the blessing.’”
Stephen has returned to the jungle several more times and recently published a book of photos from the Amazon called Lost in the Amazon.
Believe it or not, he’s come to appreciate his near-death experience.
“Life is fragile. You don’t know,” he says. “The plans we make… [Stephen shrugs]. So even though I understood that, now I really understand it.”
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