Photographer Gains Renown With Visions Within Images

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Photographer Douglas Hamm of Tonto Basin sees God in the details of the natural world, and sometimes, when the light is right, he captures glimpses of the Lord on film.

For the faithful, his photograph of a waterfall in Yosemite National Park shows the image of Christ in the rushing waters of Fern Springs.

"It still gives me goosebumps," said Hamm, who has been named one of the top 30 photographers in the nation by a new fine art Website, www.guild.com, which has such artistic advisors as Michael Monroe, former director of the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery of the National Museum of American Art in Washington D.C., and Richard Marcus, former C.E.O. of Neiman Marcus department stores.

"I was watching the water and I previsualized the image of an Indian warrior in the falls," Hamm said of his Yosemite photograph. "The area around the falls is an Indian burial ground.

"During the developing process, the images of a hawk and a wolf also emerged. Then last year, I gave a print of the photograph to my daughter and her husband as a wedding present and she found a profile of Christ."

A California news affiliate for NBC recently profiled the couple and their discovery on the local news, and this month the photograph, titled "Mystic Waters," was selected to be the centerpiece of www.Guild. com's national advertising campaign.

But it is in a small, out-of-the-way church in Punkin Center southeast of Payson that Hamm is most honored to display "Mystic Waters" and five other spiritually symbolic photographs.

Hamm, who apprenticed under renowned nature photographer Ansel Adams, moved to Tonto Basin a year and a half ago from Fountain Hills and became one of the first members of the First Southern Baptist Church in Punkin Center.

The church was founded three years ago with three members and a borrowed meeting hall.

Today, the congregation, which is 72 members strong, meets in a small, white church off McClennan Drive that's furnished with plain wooden pews and a simple pulpit donated by a church in Levine, Ariz.

"We're a new congregation and we didn't have any spiritual art for the church -- no stained glass, just white walls," Hamm said. "Harvey (the pastor for the church) gave this inspiring sermon about visualization and I decided I wanted to do something visually for the church."

Earlier this month, Hamm donated a series of six signed prints, including "Mystic Waters," to the church. The photographs were hung on the white walls of the chapel with specially selected versus of the Bible, and they were dedicated to the congregation July 4.

Each verse mirrors the symbolism in the photograph, Hamm said.

An abstract photograph of a palm leaf blowing in the wind in Mexico, for example, hangs at the front of the chapel to illustrate the spirit of God, which Jesus likened to the wind.

The verse beside it reads, "Jesus said, 'The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the spirit."

"I wanted to be a silent witness for the Lord," Hamm said. "I was blessed by Him and I wanted to return my talent to His service."

Hamm, who has been a professional photographer for 33 years, said he spends much of his time searching out his subjects and waiting for just the right light to highlight their unique forms.

"I'm constantly challenging the light," he said. "You'll notice that the lighting in each of my photographs is different. That's what's exciting about them. Each one has a totally different lighting situation."

Hamm discovered Tonto Basin 12 years ago during a fishing trip to Roosevelt Lake. The crappie fishing has kept him coming back ever since, and 18 months ago, he decided to move lakeside to cut down on the commute. Now the natural beauty of his backyard in Tonto Basin will become the primary focus of his work.

Anyone interested in seeing more of Hamm's work can check out the First Southern Baptist Church of Tonto Basin's Web site, www.4Him.com -- a year-old Web site that averages more than 850 hits a day -- or www.guild.com.

Hamm has donated prints from his Blue Skies portfolio to the church to help the congregation raise money for its building fund. Each five-print portfolio, which features abstract images that highlight how pollution can destroy nature, is available for a $1,500 donation to the church.

"I think a lot of my subjects come to me in a spiritual way," Hamm said. "You have to find the right subject and be at the right place at the right time.

"But it's important to me that my photographs say something," he said. "I'm always trying to make sure a message comes across."

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