Picture perfect

Today, I rehung one of my favorite photographs.  We had taken it down from its former place in the living room, and left it to languish for a while in the closet.  Now, at last, it occupies an honored place in our bedroom instead.

I took that shot before the kids were born, so it must have been close to 30 years ago.  Back then, I was quite the photography enthusiast.  It was the age of manual SLRs and Kodachrome, of hiking in the mountains lugging a camera bag full of interchangeable lenses and extra film–the technology that compact digital cameras with ultra-zoom lenses made obsolete.   After our son was born, I found I couldn’t focus the camera fast enough to catch a moving toddler, so we had to switch to automatic.   And then we were just too tired to go hiking much anymore.

So this photograph in particular holds a fair amount of nostalgic longing, a reminder of a different day.  We were on a camping trip in Yosemite with our friends Doug and Kathy, without whose encouragement we would never have gone camping in the first place.  It was late afternoon.  The sun would be setting soon, and the weather was uncertain.  We had taken a short walk out onto Glacier Point, and were gazing across the valley at the sheer cliffs of Half Dome.

And then it happened.  The gloom parted, the sun broke through, and a brilliant double rainbow appeared over Half Dome, stretching from horizon to horizon.  It was enough to take your breath away.

I recovered and grabbed my camera.  Shoot, bracket, shoot again.  Recompose, shoot.  Bracket, shoot again.  I don’t remember how many versions I shot, but I had to capture the image before the light changed and the rainbow disappeared.

That slide became one of my most prized photographs.  It stayed in storage for years and years before I actually had it printed and framed, along with two of my other favorites.  The photograph almost always evokes a mixed reaction in me, of both wonder and disappointment.  On the one hand, it seems to make that miraculous moment almost real again, the moment when the sky smiled in full Technicolor.

But on the other hand, the photograph disappoints.  At least the print itself does.  The contrast in the original shot has been washed out in the computer-averaged exposure.  The rich details in the shadows are dark and nearly invisible; the rainbow is too dull.  I would have to find someone in a professional color lab who still prints by expensive old-school methods to get it right.  But even then, it would still be only a photograph, a dim reminder of a far more glorious reality.

And what of the moment itself, the decades-old epiphany on Glacier Point?  There have been other such moments, like the first time this city-boy saw how the night sky looks from the desert, away from the polluting haze of city lights.  The stars practically call to you, asking you to stretch your imagination into the heavens.  Photographs can’t do justice to moments like these, when there is simply no substitute for being there to take in the sheer wonder of it all.

Perhaps even these moments are but shadows compared to the glory that awaits.  We are promised eternity in a new earth, and we shall see it with eyes that are no longer clouded by sin or disease–not to mention the fact that I won’t need glasses anymore (or so I would expect!).  What will God’s handiwork look like then?  How marvelous, how beautiful!

Maybe God will even give me back some heavenly version of my beloved Kodachrome.  Who knows?  Meanwhile, may God grant me the eyes to see through this present world to the beauty of a restored and unspoiled creation, and replace my longing for the past with eager anticipation of the future.