“A Parable of Light,” New Era, Nov. 1983, 23
Is there anything more beautiful than a swan? Its lines are exquisite. Its flight is breathtaking. It is surrounded with a bright aura of solemn holiness. But what is the purpose of a swan? It does not pollinate flowers like a bee or give milk like a cow. I believe the true purpose of a swan is just to be beautiful. The Lord has said, “All things which come of the earth, in the season thereof, are made for the benefit and the use of man, both to please the eye and to gladden the heart” (D&C 59:18).
I have been blessed with many moments when my eye was pleased and my heart gladdened. I hope I have been able to capture in these photographs a small part of what I have felt. I am all too aware, however, that even my best pictures are only dim reminders of those moments when I saw “God moving in his majesty and power” (D&C 88:47).
I have found that I experience these exhilarating moments only when my natural eyes are in harmony with the eyes of my spirit. Unfortunately, my camera can reveal only what I see through the eyes of the flesh. Such images are nothing but pale shadows of the truth.
Only through divine inspiration can I see beyond the shadows to the reality that lies behind them. And inspiration can be had only through the principles of obedience and love. Thus, if I really love photographing swans, that love will enable me, compel me even, to do whatever I must to achieve that goal. I will get up early in the morning. I will stay up late at night. I will jump into ice-cold water. I will do the craziest things for the sake of that love.
Of course, I must also know the object of my love. I must know when the swans fly, when they land, when they will do this and that and the other. I must know when to expect certain actions that will make a good photograph.
One of the greatest rewards of this process is that through my love of swans I can come to know the Maker of swans. I am constantly striving to glimpse God in his creations. I start with what I know about him. I know that he is good. He is peace. He is love. He is light. He is, of course, beautiful. He is perfect. And so I look for these things in nature.
But since the whole world fell with man, this divine imprint is not always obvious. Nevertheless, at the right moment, in the right light, if you are in tune, you can catch a glimpse of the glory that is hidden in all things. As a photographer, I try to use such moments to create a visual parable. Very often this revelation appears for just a thousandth of a second, and then it is gone. Capturing that instant is one of my most important tasks.
To fulfill that task I must keep both my eyes and heart open to the light. I love light. It is the photographer’s stock-in-trade. We capture the light of sun, moon, stars, fire, and firefly, direct or reflected, and sell it to a light-starved world. The scriptures tell us that all light comes from the Lord (see D&C 88:6–12). If I am to be a good photographer (and a good Latter-day Saint) I must become a connoisseur of light in all its shades, flavors, and textures. I must be sensitive to the inner as well as the outward light. When I see a swan (or anything else) I can’t just pass it by with a sideward glance. I must really look at it. Then I must wait patiently for the miracle—that indescribable instant when a channel opens between the ordinary and the divine.
I never photograph any of the Lord’s creations without feeling deeply grateful for this earth we have been given. We should remember that all we have is a gift from God. Our talents, abilities, and capacities are part of that great gift. If we wish to express thankfulness to the Lord, we must do it in part by how we use these gifts. If we treat this beautiful earth with respect and multiply and magnify and perfect the talents we have been given, then we are truly grateful. But if we say, “Lord, we thank thee,” and then waste or misuse our gifts, we are guilty of gross ingratitude.
As a father I would not consider my son a very grateful person if I gave him a camera for his birthday and he said with a sweet smile, “Thank you, Daddy, thank you very much!” and then after a week or so I found the gift thrown away like garbage in the darkest corner of our backyard.
“For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift” (D&C 88:33).
On the other hand, the Lord has promised great blessings to those who are truly grateful.
“And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more” (D&C 78:19).
Whether we are enjoying a lake full of swans or a sky full of stars, we have many beautiful gifts to be thankful for. If we keep the commandments, treat all of God’s creations with respect, and develop our gifts to their full potential we will cause great joy in the heart of our Creator, and he will in turn bless us and truly make us glorious.