The Beauty Behind the Lens
by Sharon Jeffers
Volcano man Brad Lewis makes his living going where others either fear, or dream to go. For days at a time, he lives in the midst of hot flowing lava and unpredictable circumstances. Says Lewis, “Many times I’m walking over lava that is so hot, I can smell the rubber as the soles of my shoes melt.”
The big island of Hawaii is one of the most unique places on Earth. Miles of lava fields, barren and raw, rich green valleys nestled between massive volcanos, towering cliffs laced with giant waterfalls, and most intriguing of all, Kilauea volcano with it’s seemingly endless rivers of hot flowing lava. Active since 1983, Kilauea invites locals and visitors alike to witness creation as it’s happening. People come from around the world to have a personal experience of this amazing display of nature, flying in helicopters, hiking over solidified lava, often tempting fate, simply to witness the majesty of the Earth birthing itself in the form of new land. Human beings seem to have an innate curiosity to behold the beauty of that which sits just at the edge of comprehension. No one knows this better than volcano man, G. Brad Lewis.
Lewis lives on the summit of Kilauea volcano. Not only does he live there, he spends much of his time photographing this “living creation” in a close, personal way. Lewis came to the island of Hawaii twenty years ago for a two week vacation. He never left. At the time, he was living in Alaska, working as an archeologist, with photography as part of his job. He arrived on the island three weeks prior to the beginning of the 1983 eruption, which by the way, is still flowing. He quickly discovered that unlike volcanos in other parts of the world, Kilauea was totally approachable. The reality that he could walk up to the lava flows took him exactly where he wanted to be. “The Big Island grabbed me,” says Lewis. “It was mesmerizing and seductive. Once I saw Kilauea and absorbed what was happening, I better understood the dynamic creation of our planet.”
A born lover of nature, Lewis grew up in Utah, at the edge of the Wasatch Mountains. As a child, he spent much of his time playing in the wilderness. When talking with him about his early years, it came as no surprise to learn that on his sixth birthday, his mother gave him a Brownie camera. This was when he began taking pictures of what he loved most. “I have always had a great reverence for nature and beauty”, says Lewis. As a kid, this was my home, and when I was a teenager I spent a lot of time alone in the mountains. That’s where I found my contentment. It became my church. Beauty has lead me to each place I have been”.
In 1978, after graduating from the University of Utah, Lewis found himself drawn to the profound beauty of Alaska. Once there, he acquired a piece of land and built himself a cabin with a panoramic view of five active volcanoes. He was sure this would be his home for the rest of his life. Though he still has this cabin, little did he know at the time that what awaited him was the beginning of an unfolding journey that would lead him into a relationship that for most of us, lies far, far beyond the imagination. The relationship I speak of is that with Kilauea volcano, and it's reigning goddess, Pele.
In Hawaii and throughout the pacific, Pele, the Goddess of Fire is recognized, revered, and acknowledged with offerings. Her home, Halema’uma’u, sits atop Kilauea volcano. Over the past twenty years, Lewis has spent many a day and night in the warm embrace of Pele, tent pitched, cameras on hand, ready to capture her amazing dance of creation. Says Lewis, “The dangers are extreme at times. Thin-roofed lava tubes and spontaneous pit-craters are a threat. Where the lava flows into the ocean, huge benches of land break away from the coast and fall into the (sea). I tread lightly and travel by intuition.”
Looking at his photographs it appears as if the Goddess actually poses for him. His shots reveal lava flows and spatter (when the lava shoots into the air) in the form of hearts, faces, silhouettes, and clearly outlined shapes. It seems as though when Lewis is present with his camera, Pele is delighted to perform. “I get a lot of gifts from Pele, like Pele’s Heartbeat (the name of one of his photos). There are too many things that I’ve seen that are too unbelievable to go anywhere but the spiritual realm of the creative Pele energy.” He goes on to say that, “We (he and Pele) have been having a relationship for twenty years. Sometimes my wife gets a little jealous.”
Lewis lives with his wife Annabelle, and their eight year old daughter Heather, near the small town of Volcano (surprise). Heather by the way, was recently published in Ranger Rick magazine sharing her experiences of Kilauea. Simple in his living, sophisticated in his thinking, this man has a vision for humanity. His work, is an amazing expression that allows the rest of us to see into a world that would otherwise be unavailable. “I think it’s important for the world to see creation in a visual form that they can relate to”, he says. We get so caught up in our human activities, we forget we live on this living planet.”
Interestingly, at the same time that Brad Lewis is capturing the beauty of creation in process, he is also supporting science. Over the past ten years, he has supplied the local scientific community with detailed pictures that provide them with up to date information for research. It’ is this service that has given him his ticket to go beyond the "no trespassing" signs and enter into the most intimate spaces with this mountain of fire. It seems as though they were meant to be together.
The statement on his website says it all: “The goal of my photography is to further the viewer’s understanding and appreciation of the natural world and to contribute on a global scale, photographs that help us comprehend the bigger picture. Nowhere else on Earth is creation happening on a continual basis at such a rapid rate. I find it crucial that there exist visual reminders that the Earth is alive and fulfilling an agenda of its own.”
G. Brad Lewis is well positioned to witness the unfolding of Earth's agenda. From his early beginnings with his Brownie camera, through the great expanse of Alaska, to the hot flowing lava of Kilauea, this unfolding story of a greater plan embracing the life of a single human being, so beautifully expressed through art. How fortunate we are to behold this extraordinary relationship between scientist and volcano, photographer and beauty, man and goddess. It is truly a blessing for all. Mahalo Brad for your beautiful contribution to the planet.
To view G. Brad Lewis’ beautiful work, and learn more about him, please visit his website at: volcanoman.com
copyright Sharon Jeffers 2003
All rights reserved.