I’ve traveled the Utah southeastern desert since I was two. This is the only time I have ever come across a restored kiva-like structure that was open the public. Not just open to the public, but the nearest ranger was a long, long way away.
It was a unique and very special experience. I spent about half an hour down inside. I only took three photos though, this one, one of my kids looking up the ladder, and a self portrait. Mostly I just sat there and watched the shaft of light move across the floor and thought about all the other people who had sat there over the centuries and watched something similiar.
I thought of this image recently because I was reading Photographs Not Taken, a collection of essays by photographers about images they didn’t take. The reasons vary, but there are more than a few essays about people who felt like the camera was pulling them out of the moment in some way. I felt like that whenever I picked up my camera inside this structure. It just did not feel right.
The famous big wall free climber Ron Kauk spoke once at The North Face when I was working there, and I remember him talking about how he didn’t really like being photographed when he climbed. He accepted it as a price he had to pay if he wanted sponsorships and the rest of the circus that let him climb for a living, but I remember him saying that he felt like looking at those images later interferred with his memories, like the photograph crowded the memory out of his head.
I can relate to that, particularly with this image which, though I have spent hours on it, still doesn’t match my memory of the experience of sitting on the floor of that kiva. And I wonder, if I did get it right, if the colors did map to what I can still see in my head, would it replace my memory? Would it crowd it out? Would I be left with nothing more than these ones and zeros encoded on this silcon?