Sunday, April 21, 2019

Leaving Town

Store #1, Clarkdale, CO

I’ve gotten to the point that I have to leave town to take a photograph. That flies in the face of the principle that exploring your local environment completely is the path to making the most meaningful images. I hope it’s just a phase because travelling every time you want to be inspired is expensive. And exhausting.

Store #2, Clarkdale, CO

Sometimes the travel is for another purpose but, no matter, you gotta use it to your advantage. A case in point is driving to Durango, Colorado to attend the opening of Peggy’s one woman show at the Sorrel Sky Gallery. A grand success I must add. I wouldn’t or couldn’t miss it for one thing and it’s Durango for another thing. I do dig the place. We stayed in an ordinary chain motel with intermittent hot water, a good hand cracked egg breakfast and access to the Animas River path which is one of my favorite places to run. When I run the winding route I see more runners in an hour than I see in Taos in year. I really crave being in a town where fitness is front and center, where there’s a community of like-minded folks. It feels so vibrant and healthy. I’ve found that sensibility in small towns and big cities across the country. Boston has it. San Francisco has it. So, too, do Denver and San Diego. Bozeman, Montana has it. So does North Conway, NH from whence we came. Even though Taos is nominally an outdoor town it doesn’t possess that special vitality. A little of that is the aging population I suppose. Everyone is me.

Trujillo's Country Store, Blanco, NM

Two tanks, Navajo City, NM

Old store, Lumberton, NM

But this is about photography or the lack thereof. I drove to Durango by the tried and true route through Pagosa Springs. It sounds more exotic than is. But when returning to Taos I opted for the longer and more evocative path south through fossil fuel country to Bloomfield, New Mexico and east on US 64 to the Jicarilla Apache reservation and on the Chama and home. I’ve driven the Bloomfield, Dulce, Chama stretch a bunch of times so knew I’d trip over the desiccated hulk of some old saloon, school or church along the way.

The gargoyle screams

Above are some of those jewels.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Good Bones

The Hub Plaza, home of the wonderful Tapas Tree featuring world street food
Home town news

The Spanish conquistadors brought copper mining to what would become Silver City NM. In 1800 Colonel José Manuel Carrasco learned of a massive copper deposit from an Apache chief who showed him a sample of the mineral. Carrasco named the deposit Santa Rita del Cobre. After several years he sold the mine to Don Manuel Elquea who was followed by a colorful list of characters who worked the mine. In 1828 Christopher “Kit” Carson was employed as a teamster at the Santa Rita mine. After the Civil War a silver deposit was discovered on Chloride Hill and American miners led my Captain John Bullard began building the town that became Silver City. Bullard, in fact, laid out the town but was killed by marauding Apaches in February 1871 before seeing his vision realized. He did have the distinction of being buried in Silver City’s first grave.

The Silco Theatre

In its rowdy early days Silver City assumed the characteristics of mining communities throughout the west. It was a rough and violent place. Sheriff Henry Whitehill who brought some order to the town arrested Billy the Kid twice for theft. The Kid's mother was buried in the town cemetery. Later Whitehill referred to the outlaw as a likeable kid whose stealing was more a function of necessity than criminality. Butch Cassidy and the Wild Bunch frequented the saloons and brothels on Bullard Street.

Javalina Coffee House
Al fresco at the Javalina

When Captain Bullard planned the town, he didn’t anticipate the torrential rains that soak Silver City every summer so two foot high sidewalks had to be built to accommodate the river of water that flowed through its streets after a deluge. A ditch was dug to handle the runoff. 

The Gila Theatre

There’s a burgeoning art and music scene in Silver City and its Downtown Arts District shows promise. There once were three theatres on Bullard Street, the Silco which became a community movie house in 2016, the Gila which was shuttered for the final time in 2003 and the El Sol which presents live theatre today. From its New Directors Series the play Marjorie Prime completed its run April 14.

Silver City hosts several festivals during the year, among them The Southwest Festival of the Written Word, the Silver City Blues Festival and the Chicano Music Fest.

Silver City with its 10,000 residents is a contender. Its temperate climate with January highs in the low fifties and July highs in the mid-eighties is most appealing. It’s got a university. Housing is affordable. It’s three hours from Tucson. Cool art deco signs don't hurt.

I’m giving it a thumbs-up.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

On the road again

Twenty miles west of Socorro.

A couple of weeks ago I took a photo safari, the first in many months. Or is that years? The impetus was the call of the open road as much as anything. I’d been hankering to see Silver City for quite a while and that stems from my lust for little towns that have downtowns with good bones. We found the place many years ago, just passing through really. I remembered the coffee place we visited and used it as a touchstone this time. In wandering around Silver City's tidy downtown I stumbled on the Javalina Coffee House and it was just the welcoming establishment I recalled. Good coffee, too.

I’ve described these villages as places where you can amble to El Centro to get your morning coffee, a good breakfast, the New York Times and visit your local pub, a place where everybody knows your name. The village can also be a neighborhood in a larger city. An acquaintance said when he and his wife travel to a new city they search out locally owned bookstores and find that neighborhoods with independent bookstores usually have good restaurants, art galleries and, today, at least one busy brew pub. It's a package deal. One thing that they are not is dry.

Silver City, the home of Western New Mexico University hits most of these notes. Not sure about the dining scene. My dinner at Diane's, one of two "fine dining" establishments was decidedly ho hum. I'll do further research and report back. Fresh beer is alive and well at Little Toad Creek Brewery I'm happy to report.

I took the great circle route to get to Silver City, opting to head west from Socorro through the Very Large Array rather than the more direct route through Kingston and Hillsborough. I might not do that twice. It was a winding ribbon of nothing from Reserve, the most right wing town in the most right wing county in all of New Mexico. Reputedly you’re required to pack heat if you live in Reserve. I found it unnerving.

The images here and above are from the outbound drive to Silver City and include the vast Freeport McMoran copper mine fifteen mile east.

The former Evett's Ice Cream Parlor in Magdalena, NM

The Freeport McMoran copper mine that swallowed up the village of Santa Rita, NM

Unlike Freeport McMoran's Morenci, AZ mine which left a crater the size of Manhattan, the Santa Rita mine extracts copper from the mountain side.

Silver City is, on the other hand, a bastion of lefty politics owing to the college and a wave of educated oldsters that remind me of Taos.

The place has a shot at becoming a real art colony. Karen Hymer, a photographer and educator, who opened Light Art Space last October is counting on it. Her current exhibition Dead Art: An Analog Approach to a Digital World runs through April 28. It's a powerful show of work from her former students at Pima College in Tucson.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Aging Ungraciously

The sprightly lad in the bathroom mirror each morning is very different than the hunched gnome I see in photographs of myself in social settings. Especially in profile. In my mirror version I behold a man fifteen years my junior and the mortifying, digital me is a man in late stage elderliness. And that’s just appearances. Which are, after all, paramount.

Often I see an article online that asks the burning question, “What is your real age? Then you’re led to a questionnaire that asks stuff like, “How tall are you?” “How much do you weigh?” How much do you exercise?” And so on. The premise is that based on certain measurables you can be older or younger than the typical, say, 77-year-old. Based on the metrics I’m maybe 62. I’m guessing. I've never completed one of the quizzes.

I’m just taking a stab at the tally the questionnaire might yield and I'm sticking with the 62. 100 push-ups, ten pull-ups, a 10K in under an hour. Gotta be better than average. Or am I simply full of myself? Well, yes, I am full of myself.

More important, I’d say, is how you feel. And, truth be told, I feel okay. “Only okay?” you ask.

Uh huh. I can do all that self-indulgent crap listed above, but I still want to take a nap. I’m all about naps if you must know. And my back aches one hundred percent of the time. Between the double curvature of the spine, the scoliosis, the osteoporosis and rest of the osises I’m a freaking mess. Oh, and the arthritis. Can’t forget the arthritis.

All of that is why I’ve gone from a 5’11-1/2” Homo Erectus at 45 to a bent 5’9-1/2” relic in late middle age.

The subject of aging and longevity comes up frequently in my circle of geriatrics. Come to think of it, I’m the guy who brings it up. Preoccupied by life and death? No, I’m obsessed by the life part. If I die, I die.

I always tell people that I’m more interested in quality than longevity. Most folks seem to understand that in principle but would opt for maximal length even if it means being severely limited. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

And back on the vanity front, how one looks carries some weight. I do not look forward to being a cute, little old man. If I have already reached that stage of decrepitude don't tell me. Please.

Then there’s acting your age. That’s a concept that's overrated if you want to know the truth. I’m prone to wearing clothes two generations younger. Skinny jeans, white linen shirts and orange or olive sneakers that first saw daylight in the early sixties. Flipflops, too. I usually wear black tees that display my bod. I have young hair. As my college pal Jim Walters used to say in those halcyon days of surf and sun, “There’s nothing sadder than a middle-aged hipster.” True enough unless you are the aforementioned hipster in which case it’s perfectly acceptable. When Peggy’s friend Sue noticed my jeans and sneakers combo for the first time she exclaimed, “You’re such a dude!” Thanks, Sue. I am.

A few weeks ago, we were having dinner with dear friends and being introduced to new ones. During the conversation, the distaff member of the new couple declared that the sight of Jeff Bezos in his form fitting black tee-shirt, “……creeps me out.” Bezos is only 55 years old for heaven’s sake. Do you know how self-conscious she made me feel when I was flexing my biceps?

And to that point, if you can do it why shouldn’t you? At some point you are old. Done deal. But is there some law that says you have to act your age till Doctor Doom confronts you? I thought not.

When I start embarrassing myself, I know you’ll tell me.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Black and White

Margaret Bourke-White

From where I sit the most memorable photographs are decidedly photojournalistic. That they are predominantly black and white is certain. When I asked in a recent blog, “Do you prefer the color of black and white version of the same image” your responses were all over the map. Most of you leaned toward black and white but preferred one or two of the photographs in color. One respondent was ambivalent. How is that possible I ask you.

Margaret Bourke-White

August Sander

My take-away is that people either prefer black and white or prefer color and that’s that. It’s about as polarized as American politics. In fact, during Friday’s Spanish group our peerless leader Linda Thompson said. “I just prefer color.” Whether that’s a function of living with an outstanding color photographer, her husband Terry Thompson, or a deeper-seated affliction I can but wonder.

Gary Winogrand

Lewis Hine

Linda asked me, “Why do you like black and white?”

“Well, I said, “Black and white strips the image down to its essentials and reveals the design of the picture. And black and white lends gravitas and importance to a photograph. It’s richer and timeless.”

Chuck Fawns across the table nodded his agreement and added, “That’s especially so if there’s an historic element to the image.”

Elliot Erwitt

Dorothea Lange

Since I was in the throes of deciding what to post this week, and also needed a subject for the next issue of Shadow and Light magazine I began examining the photographs that resonate with me. In revisiting the images I’ve revered over the decades I found that they are in the photojournalistic vein and hew to environmental portraiture and street photography. When an image makes the leap from reportage to “Art” it joins the pantheon of giants. Just how that happens is a mystery. It simply does.

W. Eugene Smith

Here are but a few. In a few hours, I identified dozens that are unforgettable. Many you will recognize though I left out the most obvious examples. And, yes students, they are all black and white.
Andre Kertesz

All are about people in places. All tell a story. All are beautifully framed. All have or will stand the test of time. There were worthy images so dark I couldn’t bear to display them. So grim they’d send you down the rabbit hole of despair and into a lifetime of therapy.

All capture human emotion. They are of people. They are of the human condition. They illuminate. They are forever.

Walker Evans

Lewis Hine aimed his lens at the depravity of child labor. Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange, W. Eugene Smith, Walker Evans and others captured the Depression era in wrenching human terms. August Sander photographed workers in Germany between the World Wars. All of them and many more who are equally worthy told us their stories.

All capture the human condition with insight and precision. They illuminate. They are forever.

And finally,

Martin Parr. And to think I said all black and white

All but Elliott Erwitt, now ninety, and Martin Parr have departed. 

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Comparative Religion

I post to Instagram most days though it’s been spotty the last couple of weeks. Taxes are a bitch. When I post on Instagram I share through Facebook, too. On back to back days I posted photographs of an ancient gas pump that I spotted at the Overland Sheepskin complex just north of Taos. To my surprise there was a lot of feedback in favor of the color image and being a committed back and white shooter that piqued my interest. First, I agree this time that the color image is better and that made me want to look back at my various portfolios to see how side by sides of color and black and white photographs would look. While I remain devoted monochrome, sometimes even I might prefer the color shot. The look back was not quite as easy as you might think since the vast majority of the images are black and white and often I didn’t save the color original at all. That's something I need to change.

So, for your viewing pleasure here some side-by-sides that I could find. Up top is the rusty gas pump. It’s not the exact same shot but you get the drift.

There's something for every taste: landscape, still life, portraiture and street. Give me some feedback. It's time for me to learn something.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

No Tomorrow

This darling is 24 hours old. Gotta lead with a heart tugger.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve reconnected with the Abeytas of Mogote, Colorado. I might want to collaborate with Aaron Abeyta, a college professor, author and poet, to complete and publish the long gestating book, The Last Shepherd. I’ve begun to think I’m not going to make it happen without a partner in crime, though I’m not fully committed to that direction. I would still prefer to write the book myself. Then again maybe he’s a better writer and the project would be leant luster with his name attached. To paraphrase, we might be able to get the book published at no cost to me if he's aboard. The University of Texas Press and the Trinity University Press are thought to be players right now. The University of New Mexico Press is out of the game.

This one is five minutes old. Mom is licking off the afterbirth

Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself with Andrew Abeyta at the Abeyta Ranch Saturday to photograph another day of lambing. It had been three years. As I edit the images, I’m not convinced I added anything to the story. One can hope. 

Hay is the only option till the sheep head to the prairie for free forage
Andrew Abeyta pulling off flakes of hay. Each monster bail has 45 flakes.

I did however see and photograph elements of the process that I missed in the six years I’ve been working on the sheep story. And, more importantly, I clarified some facts like when Victor “Cuba” Hernandez really came to the United States. I’ve been off by 8 to 13 years depending on who I believed at the time. I’ve been reporting that Cuba fled Cuba in either 1967 or 1972 but Andrew set me straight. Victor sailed to Florida from Mariel sometime between April 15 and November 31 of 1980. He’s confident that’s the case because it happened when he was graduating from high school and Jimmy Carter was president. It also tracks with Victor’s story of picking oranges in central Florida before picking fruit in California and finally making his way to the San Luis Valley of southern Colorado and his nearly forty years with the Abeytas.

As far as I know everybody who subscribes to this blog will remember the Mariel Boatlift in which 125,000 Cubans arrived in Florida during 1980's onslaught of refugees. Although some were imprisoned when arrived, and indeed some had been prisoners in Cuba, they were granted legal status in 1984.

I'm delighted to report that Victor is still herding the Abeyta sheep despite annual threats to retire. But he turns 80 this year and Andrew is painfully aware that Victor’s run can’t continue forever. Already he’s having a hard time walking ten miles a day and has finally started riding a horse part of the time. And he may be losing a cognitive step, as well. Andrew estimates that he lost thirty sheep last season and that it may be due to Victor’s inattention. Whatever the cause it’s painful hit to the bottom line. Thirty sheep at 100 pounds per lamb times $1.50 is a big loss to a small operation. $4,500 in fact.

I asked Andrew if plan B is still to hire a foreign herder since nobody in the Valley will do the job. He said that’s the case but it’s really expensive for a small operation. By law he’d have to pay the worker $1,500 per month for the whole year while he only needs one for seven months. And he’d have to provide housing and travel expenses to and from South America.

It’s prohibitively expensive and he’d have to increase the size of the herd from about 350 to 600 just to cover the additional costs. I asked if he could increase the herd to 1,000 head and make out on the deal. I thought I saw a dawning in his eyes. But his grazing permit is for 350 sheep. He’d have to buy somebody’s permit. Oh, and now he’s being taxed $10,000 a year for well water for his sprinkler system. That’s a new cost of doing business. Ranching isn't for sissies.

I’m afraid Andrew is hoping that tomorrow never comes. He's denying the inevitable. He’ll do what he has to do when the time comes. Go big, get a herder from Peru and grow his herd or downsize and keep 200 head at the ranch. But that means buying hay. And that means there are no easy choices.