It was by chance that I discovered the Granite Dells in Prescott, Arizona in 2010. But when I did, I was struck by the austere beauty of the simply grey granite in a region most known for its spectacular display of red rock. During the summer of 2010, I returned to Prescott several times to photography the Dells but was never satisfied with my photographs. The exposures were good, the compositions disciplined, and the subject matter compelling. Yet, something was missing. The photographs lacked soul.
When I returned to Northern Arizona to photograph early in the summer of 2014, I was determined to return to the Dells to try again. I longed to find their soul, but I did not know how. Late one afternoon, trusting the weather forecast, I drove to the Dells, hoping for dramatic clouds that would buy my photographs some much needed soul. I arrived to find a disappointing, cloudless sky. I almost decided to leave the camera in the trunk and walk the dog.
But as I stood exactly where I had stood four years earlier, something happened. Suddenly the moon emerged, lingering low on a dust-filled horizon that also cast the distant mountains in subtle, receding shades of tone. This same atmospheric haze, usually unfriendly to landscape photographers, softened the light on the Dells and the surface of Watson Lake. I knew at that moment that the time was ripe for the photograph that had eluded me a few years earlier. I spent a relatively short time photographing and returned to the car, knowing that I had the photograph that satisfied my creative desires. And to this day, Moonrise Over The Granite Dells, satisfies my creative longing. It gathers up my encounter with this strange place, transfigures it, and completes it.
In his Systematic Theology, Paul Tillich (1886-1965) explores the distinction between chronos and kairos, two different kinds of time. Chronos is ordinary, linear time measured by the clock. Kairos, by contrast, is "the fullness of time," that moment where the forces of nature and history converge to create a special opportunity, a unique occasion pregnant with newness and possibility. Kairotic moments are moments of new being, of unlikely and unanticipated convergences when the eternal breaks into the temporal. In kairos, we experience the extraordinary in the ordinary, the transcendent in the mundane, sensing the unique, irrepeatable mystery of the eternal now. While kairos overwhelms chronos in the moment of our experience, in the end, it embraces and transforms chronos, making the ordinary the newborn bearer of the extraordinary.
Photographers long for kairos but rarely find it. Occasionally, it finds them. And when it does, a photograph gains its soul. And so does the photographer.