Area pastor uses photography to document first year in Mexico

Reverend Eric Mattson had only lived in Mexico for a few months when he attended his first evening football practice at Mexico High School. As the team ran drills in preparation for the upcoming season, Mattson stepped onto the track hardly knowing anyone. With a camera in hand, he began to photograph the practice — almost a year later, he’s still going strong.

Mattson made it his goal to attend as many sporting events as possible in order to photograph the Bulldogs in action. An exhibit documenting Mattson’s experiences during his first year in town will be showcased at the Mexico Chamber of Commerce from June through August.

The exhibit, which he refers to as ‘First Impressions,’ was his way of commemorating the personal transition he has gone through in adjusting to the community.

“I first got here with the eyes of a stranger and I wanted to mark what my first impressions were of Mexico,” said Mattson.

Dana Keller, executive director at the Mexico Chamber of Commerce, felt that summer was the perfect time for kids and their families to be able to enjoy the exhibit.

“As we watched the images that he produced we noted that, aside from being wonderful photographs, there was really an artistic element to the photographs,” she said.

The exhibit is housed in the building’s historic vault.

Mattson spent the past year shooting and editing photographs, becoming a part of the community along the way.

“I not only get to know who the athletes are, I get to meet parents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and get to know a lot more people,” he said.

It is no coincidence that his photographs revolve around athletics. Mattson lost his father when he was only 12 years old and said that, when he participated in sports, “there was nobody that went and watched me … I always used to think ‘I wish someone was there just for me.’”

Mattson has attended as many Mexico sporting events as possible in hopes that the athletes would know someone was there just for them.

“I’m there for all the kids because I want them to feel noticed and appreciated and valued,” said Mattson.

The final photos are also available online for free so students and families are “able to build memories” without worrying about paying for a copy. Mattson even gave the local Walgreens photographer’s permission so no one will be denied printing one of his photos.

“I believe that when God blesses you in any way, a blessing is never for just you alone,” he said. “This is my way to give back to the community and bless the community I’m a part of because I feel like if you live in a community, it should be a better place for you having lived there.”

Mattson moved to the area from New Madrid, Mo., in June 2017 and is currently the senior pastor of Mexico United Methodist Church. He said he had callings to be a pastor from a young age, around the same time when he first developed an interest in art. While he “ran far and hard from the calling,” he continued to experiment with various art forms. His interest in photography grew around 1973, when he started taking photos of old buildings so that he could paint them later. That’s when he realized “photography is an interesting art form all by itself.”

Mattson eventually arrived at Northwest Missouri State University intending to major in art but decided to switch to accounting. After graduating, he worked in the banking field for 16 years. However, the callings returned — Mattson ultimately decided to attend Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky., and officially began his life as a pastor.

“There is no average day … there’s a lot of unpredictability in the life of a pastor,” said Mattson. “Even though it’s a 24/7 job, you have to balance it with family and other things, too.”

Photography and ministry may seem like different worlds but Mattson said that both activities make him feel alive.

“When I’m taking pictures, I feel close to God and when I’m serving other people, I feel close to God,” he said. “My photography helps me see God’s creation in new and different ways. It’s like instead of seeing God in scripture, you’re seeing God in God’s world.”

Mattson’s photographs have appeared in numerous publications including the Missouri Methodist Magazine and have been shown in a variety of galleries. He said he is “appreciative and humbled” to have an exhibit featured at the Chamber of Commerce after only having been in town for one year.

If a picture is worth a thousand words, Mattson has written novels documenting life in Mexico. He may not always have a camera in hand but the lessons he has learned are always with him.

“That’s one thing photography does is — instead of showing you what your mind was seeing, it shows you what is there,” he said. “And then you can begin to see what’s in front of you in new and different ways.”

ssabatke@mexicoledger.com