The Soul of Passion
Text Copyright and Photography Copyright Jim Greenwood
When I received an e-mail last June from Jim Erhardt, NaturePhotographers.net (NPN) Publisher, requesting material for what would be NPN's first theme issue, "A Passion for Nature Photography", I immediately had a clear concept of how I wanted to express myself with that theme in mind. I've taken advantage of the internet phenomenon and my personal Web sites to express some of my thoughts related to this theme for about five or six years now. However, let's just say that the number of people clambering over each other through cyberspace to get to my Web sites isn't exactly bringing the information highway to a standstill. This is one of the reasons why I'm grateful for being invited by Jim to be a member of the NPN staff. It's a second, and much less obscure, outlet for me and others to share our "passion" with the world.
Of course, "nature photography" is a very comprehensive term. Within the bounds of NPN, nature photography most often refers to wildlife photography or landscape photography. Both of these terms are still quite broad in scope. For example, I've noticed a distinct tendency towards avian photography among many NPN staff members. My point is that while it's accurate to say that I have an interest in nature photography, what I would describe as my "passion" needs to be narrowed down a bit. My particular passion is landscape photography of the American Southwest.
For many people who would say that they have a passion, it might be difficult for them to ascertain how it developed or when it started. Perhaps their passion grew out of early childhood experiences and evolved slowly over time. For others like me, the events and circumstances which led to the birth of their passion occurred later in life and can be more easily identified and understood. Here is my story.
About fifteen years ago, when I was in my late twenties, a seemingly unfortunate personal failure led directly, although purely by coincidence (or alternatively by graceful fate), to a relocation from Ohio, where I had been born and raised and lived most of my life up to that point, to Albuquerque, New Mexico. Not long after I moved there in July of 1985, in an effort to deal with (escape?) what were initially not the best of circumstances, I began to go hiking in the nearby Sandia Mountains. I had no particular or well-defined interest in hiking or photography prior to this time. My parents had given me a Pentax Spotmatic-F as a high school graduation gift some ten years earlier. I had never really used it much except for maybe the occasional vacation or family get-together. But the camera seemed to be a natural companion on the trails, and it was always willing to go where and when I wanted to go. I soon began to venture into other areas around northern New Mexico and southern Colorado, and also took a memorable trip to the Grand Canyon. The southwestern landscape quickly and easily began to inspire me with its magic. It motivated me to pursue both hiking and photography with more interest and enthusiasm.
However, even the scenic beauty of the Grand Canyon was not yet enough to spark my "passion". It wasn't until my first visit to Arches National Park in the summer of 1987 that my passion was truly born. I remember that I spent less than five days at the park during that visit, and I estimated that I hiked somewhere between 50-55 miles in that time. I just couldn't get enough of it. Although I didn't immediately comprehend its full impact, the moment I later would describe as the defining moment of that trip, and indeed the moment when my passion was ignited, was when I climbed up to a small window near the end of the easy trail to Delicate Arch and observed that magnificent landscape and took the simple photograph you see here. I still to this day have an enlargement of this photo, and several others taken during that trip, hanging in my apartment. I've been back to Arches National Park and Delicate Arch many times since that first visit. I've taken hundreds of photographs of Delicate Arch since then, many of which are better photographs, by my own admission. This first one is still special.
Millions of people have seen Delicate Arch. How is it that everyone doesn't come away from there as moved and as changed by the experience as I was? The arch spoke to me, the scene touched my soul, and still does today. How could anyone not feel the same? Many do, I'm sure. Well, the reasons are as varied and numerous, as complex and mysterious, as people themselves. The answers are for the philosopher in each of us to figure out for ourselves. I've read many books written by very educated people, trying to help me to answer these questions for myself. Basically I've reduced it all to a simple concept, which I believe in completely. It's nothing new. It's been around for millennia. Everything has a soul. People, all living creatures, places, things, objects, landscapes, arches, rocks, even abstract ideas, concepts, beliefs, truths and theories, each has a soul. The ways in which two souls interact with and react to each other are the result of all that they are, and are as unique as the moment. Simple.
Over the years I've continued to explore and photograph the landscape of the American Southwest. I've visited many places replete with beauty, solitude and soul which have stoked the fire of my passion. In October of 1998, over eleven years after my first trip to Arches, I was fortunate to be able to visit Zion National Park for the first time. I could barely contain my excitement and found it difficult to keep my eyes on the winding road as I drove through the park late in the afternoon on the way to my first night's lodging. I wanted to get out and begin exploring every place I looked. I knew that this place would have special meaning for me.
During that visit I discovered for myself a second incredible place which instantly had as equally powerful an effect on my soul as Delicate Arch did all those years before, the Narrows of Zion Canyon. The image at the beginning of this article is of a particularly beautiful stretch of the Virgin River where I've taken several excellent photographs. The absolutely breathtaking scene you see here is of the Virgin River as it cuts its way through the depths of the Narrows. This time, unlike the first, I was totally cognizant of every soulful moment, every step, every scene. It was perfect. The experience was nothing less than a complete reaffirmation of my . . . "passion".
I invite you to visit my personal home page.