It doesn’t take much for a Salt Lake City photographer to realize the LDS temple photography scene has already been covered.
Phillip Monson is one of these local photographers and a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Like many members of the religion, and even many who are not members, he finds a special beauty in Mormon temples.
But Monson knew that simply blending his love of photography and his love of temples wasn’t a new idea. He wanted something fresh and different.
"A lot of people take photos of the temples, and I really wanted to make something different and stand out," Monson said. "So I had this idea that it would be cool to do a project where I take photos of all the temples in Utah in all four seasons and then put it together."
After talking to people about the idea and looking into self-publishing, he found a project he thought would inspire people in a new way: get a picture of each Utah temple during each season and compile them into a book by the end of the year. He’s preparing for the book now with a calendar featuring a seasonal temple photo for each month.
The seasonal aspect gives an added layer of symbolism, according to Monson. He said he was in part inspired by Ecclesiastes 3 that begins with the scripture, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven."
Monson said the fact that temples weather the storm of any season, rain or shine, teaches a profound lesson.
"No matter what the weather is doing or (how) the times are changing, these buildings are always going to be standing the test of time and are going to be there," he said. "I thought that just resonated with people. People have ups and downs. They have different seasons of their lives. But something that we can always look to is the temple."
Monson has to find time for the project on top of being with his family and working full time. Working on the project isn’t easy and requires commitment, but it’s this very life outside of photography that helps him meet his goals.
He credits his family, work and friends for their support.
"Thankfully I’ve got an incredibly supportive wife who also feels strongly about the project," he said. "It’s a big time commitment, but it’s been interesting. I’ve kind of really felt that I’ve been inspired to know when to go and what time’s right and everything just lines up right. Either my wife not having anything going on or work (has) been great with some time off, so it’s been really interesting to see just how things line up and make the time that it takes to do. It’s all worked out."
Monson even has help on some of his trips from his 4-year-old daughter, whom he called his “little photo assistant.”
Comparing landscape photography to temple photos, Monson said some things are the same and some things are not. The rules of photography — dynamic lighting, good composition, the right angles — are similar, but Monson said he feels more pressure for his temple pictures.
"I feel like I have a real responsibility to capture (the temple) in its best light. If it’s just a landscape photography trip, if I don’t get anything I like, then it’s not a big deal. I can just go back or whatever. But with these there’s a little bit more pressure to do it, especially since I’ve put myself out there. Saying this is my project. This is what I’m doing. People are kind of expecting some big things."
The photographer uses social media to share and promote his photos, leading to missionary experiences. Some of his photos have received hundreds of Facebook "likes" and have been shared with people around the world.
“A lot of these photos have been shared a couple hundred or multiple times and people can put them on their pages and say, 'Hey, this is a really important, sacred building to me and my religion. Ask me questions about it,'” he said.
The project not only has the potential to strengthen other people’s testimonies, but it has also strengthened the photographer. He said seeing the temples, being on the grounds and researching the sacrifices made for the temples have all benefited him.
Other experiences he’s had have also touched him and made him feel as though someone has guided him. He mentioned a large snowstorm that hit St. George late last year.
“When they get a snowstorm where they haven’t had that much snow in 60-plus years, I kind of have to believe it’s more than coincidence,” he said. “Heavenly Father knows I’m out doing this project and wanting to get it done in a certain amount of time, and I can’t help but know I was definitely blessed with that opportunity to get down there and get that winter photo."
Monson feels blessed and lucky to live so close to so many temples, but he also hopes to expand further someday. If he can, Monson would like to continue the idea of “to everything there is season” beyond Utah to temples throughout the U.S. and even the world.
“However big it would let me go. I think it’d be a cool thing to see,” he said.
Click here to see more of Monson's photos.
Alison Moore is a writer for the Faith and Family sections at DeseretNews.com. She is working toward a bachelor's degree in communications with an emphasis in journalism and a minor in editing at Brigham Young University.