The angel, Salt Lake Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah, 2006
This image is symbolic because its subject, the angel that crowns the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, is a symbol in itself. The image of the angel Moroni is commonly used as an unofficial symbol of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It faces eastward, where in 1823, it appeared to Mormon founder Joseph Smith, Jr. and told him about golden plates containing Mormon gospel that were buried a few miles from Smith’s home. Smith translated the plates into the Book of Mormon and returned them to Moroni. Earlier, I had photographed the angel blowing its trumpet from the top of the temple (See that image by clicking on the thumbnail at the bottom.) This image is more abstract, because I photograph it from behind, as it moves away from us. Using a 334mm telephoto focal length, I tried to add tension and energy to the gilded figure glowing in the early morning light by pulling the viewer’s eye to it through a screen of softly focused trees.
Abandoned School House, Moab, Utah, 2006
What appears to be an abandoned school stands alone just behind the crest of a hill. This image is a blend of the three primary colors, yellow school, navy blue sky, and reddish earth. The yellow color brings the old school house into a vivid present, a color that could be interpreted as a symbol of renewal. Because the school is so small, I do not stress its ruination – we can’t dwell on the rust on its roof and siding, or on its broken windows. Rather, I stress its isolation in space, and use the symbolism of the spunky yellow building standing alone against the ominous deep blue sky, to create a metaphorical challenge: the small school standing alone on the horizon can viewed as a school of hard knocks. Education itself can often be a tough, lonely and demanding task – and this image conveys that aspect as well.
Monsoon ablaze, Phoenix, Arizona, 2006
The oncoming rush of a powerful monsoon storm catches one’s attention. Particularly at day’s end, when the last rays of a setting sun illuminate the billowing storm clouds as if they were the coming of the Apocalypse. And that is what this image symbolizes --an apocalyptic vision, the end of the world as we know it. The abstracted house and that mound of branches represent our world, while the fiery sky is a metaphor for the inevitable day when the sun will consume it. I made this picture from my front door, shooting across the roof of a neighbor’s house. We can see the tops of some trees behind it, their branches rhythmically echoing the long curve of the oncoming storm clouds. The top of that house and the branches rising just above it provide my foreground layer, giving a sense of scale to the monumental billows of orange and gray clouds that loom overhead. The play of fiery light on these storm clouds lasted less than a minute. I had time to compose just three shots, and then it faded. Thunder, lightning and rain took its place.
Monte Vista Hotel, Flagstaff, Arizona, 2006
Built in 1926, the Monte Vista Hotel’s sign dominates the skyline. It has been the symbol of Flagstaff for eighty years, and is said to be haunted. I photographed the sign from a distance, using a long 430mm focal length. The letters themselves seem to be ghostly; the neon tubes that illuminate the sign at night seem skeletal. I add still another level of symbolism by including the two flagstaffs that stand in nearby Heritage Square in my picture. They not only symbolize the country, but also echo the very name of the community.
Wig shop window, Portland, Oregon, 2006
This image blends the regimentation of corporate life with escapist fantasies displayed in a window of a Portland costume and wig shop. It draws on symbolism to express its point – even here in the very shadow of corporate America, whose rigid structures are reflected in the window, there is always the seductive promise of escape. The mannequin in the hat, mask, wig, placed within an arch of golden squares, symbolizes such an escape.
Timber, Portland, Oregon, 2006
The splintered top of a weathered post along the Columbia River just outside of Portland records the years of its former life as a tree. I found it to be as good a symbol as any for the timber industry that gives Oregon so much of its character. With my lens set for macro focusing, I was able to move in within a few inches of the old post to stress this symbolic detail.
Exhibit, Peace Memorial Museum, Hiroshima, Japan, 2006
At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945, the city of Hiroshima, Japan, was destroyed by a single American atomic bomb. The event is commemorated in this museum. The photomural features an image of a wristwatch stilled forever by the blast. The actual watch rests in the case at right. I waited and watched as a steady flow of people moved somberly past the watch and the mural. I made this image when two of them stopped to contemplate the horror of the event, while a third moves past in a blur. The watch has become a symbol that makes an event such as this more personal and real. The mural has become a symbol as well, enlarging the wristwatch to monumental size, thereby magnifying its significance. My own image stops time, just as the watch has. I create symbolic meaning of my own by using a symbol of a symbol as my subject matter.
The Sacred Way, Ancient Delphi, Greece, 2005
The remnants of ancient Delphi, renowned as the dwelling place of the god Apollo, overlook the Delphic Gorge on the slopes of Mt. Parnassus. From the end of the 8th century B.C., people from all over the world came to Apollo’s great temple to ask him how to govern their lives. Apollo answered through a priestess, known as the Delphic Oracle. All roads led to these steps – the Sacred Way – an ancient path that twists and turns its way through the ruins of the place the ancient Greeks considered the center of the universe. I wanted to make a picture of the Sacred Way as more than just a road. I wanted to make an image that symbolized the unknown, the uncertainties, and the questions that drew people looking for answers to these steps for more than 1200 years. As I slowly climbed the Sacred Way very late in the afternoon, I noticed how the sun reflected off the worn marble steps. I limited the image to just six levels, and exposed for those reflections. The textures came up beautifully, and the black gaps in between each surface seemed to symbolize chasms of doubt and mystery.
Disappearance, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2005
A woman walks below the long colonnade outside of Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts – the early morning sunlight grazing her arm, hand, and foot. The rest of her is enveloped in darkness. In an instant she was gone. Since I was exposing on the exterior of the building, the shadow is entirely black, swallowing the woman who is unknowingly walking into it. Her arm, hand and foot are the last parts I saw of her. Such shadows can symbolize the unknown, a mystery, and a void. Someone entering that void seems to be lost forever. For all practical purposes, this woman is in the process of vanishing.
Ancestor, Place du Jeu de Balle Flea Market, Brussels, Belgium, 2005
When I saw this framed portrait and the old china resting on the ground of a Brussels flea market stall, I immediately regarded them as symbols. I also saw symbols within symbols, which could be compared and contrasted to each other in a photographic image to trigger the imaginations of those who will view it. The old photograph itself functions as a symbol. All photographs are actually symbolic representations of actuality. The picture is not the woman. It symbolizes her. She is long gone, but she lives on as a symbol in the old photograph, and in this one as well. Her demeanor is symbolic as well. For most of her generation, photography was a serious event, and her expression stands for the solemnity and gravity appropriate to such an occasion. It might represent her general state of mind as well. She appears to have been a stern, resolute person. The golden frame can also be seen as metaphorical, a gilded enclosure representing wealth, importance, and formality. The reflections of objects and trees on the frame’s glass can symbolize the intrusion of the present upon the past, or vice versa. It might also symbolize the natural world’s presence in human affairs. The china also becomes a metaphor when viewed next to the old photograph. These objects might have belonged to this woman, and now that she is gone, they seem abandoned and forlorn, particularly the cups that have been knocked over. Even the darkness that invades the frame can be seen as symbolic of the mysterious tone that pervades this image. Darkness represents the unknown, and there is much here that is just that. How we read, or fail to read, these symbols and metaphors will determine what this image will express to each of us.
When day is night and night is day, Bruges, Belgium, 2005
The streets of Bruges are still lined with the 500-year-old mansions of cloth merchants. We can see those houses here as a metaphor for another time and place, a way of life that is no more. The sun struggles to break through the dark clouds overhead, which cast darkly symbolic shadows upon those houses. The eerie light is symbolically haunting. Day leans towards night, because a golden moon, symbolic of the night, dominates the image. Yet the sun, symbolic of the day, is clearly struggling to break through those clouds. This is why I took this camera position, and why I used a wideangle lens to carefully juxtapose all of these symbols within a single frame.
Clouds as shrouds, Bruges, Belgium, 2005
Clouds are among the most common photographic metaphors. As far back as the 1920s, Alfred Stieglitz, the man responsible for establishing photography as a fine art, was making images of clouds as representations of the feelings within us. I saw this image of strange clouds hovering over a Bruges sunset as a metaphor for the perpetual interplay between life and death. I abstracted the old Flemish buildings, with their quaint embellishments outlined against the sky, by underexposing them. They represent the homes of those who are no longer with us. The golden sunset is a metaphor of sheer energy and vitality – symbolic of life. The clouds, particularly the largest one, are the keys to the image. They are actually not clouds at all, but contrails from jet aircraft in various stages of dissolution. They appear haunted, wispy, insubstantial and shroud-like, almost transparent. To me, they represent the dead of Bruges, particularly when juxtaposed with the blackened hulks of the houses they once lived in.