Ancestral Voices

It is a cold winter’s day in the desert and I’m about to enter Upper Antelope Canyon for the first time. Our guide Veree Chee' says that to older Navajos, entering a place like Antelope Canyon was like entering a cathedral. They would probably pause before going in, to be in the right frame of mind and prepare for protection and respect. This would also allow them to leave with an uplifted feeling of what Mother Nature has to offer, and to be in harmony with something greater than themselves. It was, and is, a spiritual experience.

The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is "Tse' bighanilini", which means "the place where water runs through rocks." Upper Antelope is at about 4,000 feet above sea level and the canyon walls rise 120 feet above the stream bed and is located within the LeChee Chapter of the Navajo Nation.
I'm here in the winter to escape the hoards of tourists who frequent this canyon every day in season. I'm looking to see, feel and touch the beauty, peace and healing powers of this sacred place. Walking into Antelope Canyon is like walking into the heart of the Earth.

As Veree' leads us through the inner canyon she pauses to play her native flute as we explored the canyon. Listening to the rhythmic swells of her flute as it echoes off the canyon walls is a very intimate and deeply personal experience. It’s as if Veres’ music belongs in this place of reflection and reverence. Listening to her music is a gift that has great transformational potential.

Veree' Chee

Taking in the wonder!

The Eagles’ Gift

But how does a photographer come to such a place and presume to create a photograph? I had photographed Lower Antelope before and always run into the same problem: it's dark inside. You want to photograph the depths of the canyon but the farther back you go, the darker it gets. Moreover, I didn't want to just record what it looks like. I wanted to suggest the timeless inner works of the ever changing Earth that are so obvious inside Antelope Canyon. The Earth is all around you, changing all the time, full of transfiguring energy.
 Technical prowess in photography is both necessary and a potential pitfall. It can often lead to the feeling that technical solutions can overcome all problems. But it is not the necessary application of talent or technology that brings the joy of photography to me. 

For me, true awareness of the landscape comes from engaging the subject on its own terms, letting the atmosphere percolate in while closing off the rest of the world, and entering into a sort of communion with a place. If that sounds spiritual, I suppose in some ways it is. I know, of course, that the land is completely oblivious to, and has no need, for my presence and feelings. But I've always had a strong bond and appreciation for nature's beauty, and for the honor of being in its presence, and I'm becoming more and more aware of how amazing and unexplainable this is.


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