Photography Professor Learns Language of Gospel Symbolism


    By Jaclyn Anderson

    BYU photography professor Val Brinkerhoff didn”t know why he needed to do it. He just had a feeling and acted on it.

    Brinkerhoff left the United States for the first time at the age of 43 to begin a life-altering journey that, unknown to him, would take him to 35 different countries over the next seven years and open his eyes to a new dimension.

    Over the past seven years, Brinkerhoff has taken thousands of photos of sacred places and temples all over the globe and studied the symbolism of scripture and temples in depth. He is writing several books about the symbols of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

    After teaching photography for 20 years, a desire to create religious art coupled with previous experience photographing ancient Indian ruins heightened his interest in sacred architecture.

    “The greatest art… are those pieces that are dedicated to the Savior and dedicated to faith and worship,” he said. “I think when art lost its connection to worship, it really lost its greatest power and so I wanted to do something that mixed my talents with my beliefs.”

    Brinkerhoff began his project only planning to photograph sacred places all over the world. His project slowly evolved into studying the symbolism of temples as he began to see the same things in many different places and started reading about ancient temples, he said.

    Soon he was staying up at night and skipping meals as he became immersed in learning as much as he could about the meaning of temple and scripture symbols.

    “These experiences of traveling and of reading about what a temple really was opened my eyes to where I wanted desperately to understand the temple and I wanted to really dive into scripture for a change instead of feeling like I had to,” he said. “I was learning a language. I was able to read a temple. I was able to read a building when I walked through it and it was like a book.”

    Brinkerhoff”s best friend of almost 30 years, Gordon Galbraith, accompanied him on some of the trips. He said they could not have kept their stamina without help from the Lord.

    “We had our personal prayers as well as our daily prayers together,” he said. “There was a Higher Being that was involved in that and Val and I just seemed to share that.”

    Brinkerhoff”s friends and family said he is most driven by his need to share what he”s learned with others.

    His 24-year-old daughter, Heidi, a junior contemplating majoring in photography, said she has learned much about LDS symbols from her father.

    “In these books that he”s been doing on symbolism, he”s found so much about it and it”s opened his eyes to so many things and he wants to share it with everyone because of what he”s felt from it,” she said.

    Brinkerhoff said the purpose for all of his work is to get people to open their eyes and to learn the language of visual symbolism and scripture.

    “[Scripture] is so inspired that it has all these levels and most people just take the top level, but there”s all these deeper ones that are there for people who are ready,” he said. “I think if you can help people to increase their testimony and help them to open their eyes, wow, what is more important than that?”

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