Sunday, April 21, 2024

Jimmy Stadler Rocks

My friend photographer and videographer Terry Thompson asked if I would man the second camera on a prospective video of Taos’s favorite musician Jimmy Stadler, the man of a thousand instruments, or at least seven. Last week we all met for lunch to discuss the endeavor. I had met Jimmy in 2018 when I assisted Terry on another music video of Jimmy’s students at Taos Academy but didn’t really have a conversation.

At lunch I asked Jimmy if he started playing music in high school like I did in the fifties and our son did starting about 1980. He answered that, “I ‘d done five albums before I got out of grade school. I knew what I wanted to do by third grade.” He was already touring when he was still in high school. So, when he graduated, he was already a full-time professional musician. Now a youthful 65 he’s Taos’s number one performer whose dance card is muy lleno as in very full. And he’s still as excited as a rookie after fifty years in the business.

He described  that “I grew up in a musical family. My mother was a concert pianist. All nine kids played music.”

I asked him where he was born. He said Columbus, Ohio. I told him that I was born in Urbana, Ohio and that my dad graduated from Ohio State. He told me. “I think my dad did, too.”

Jimmy lived in LA for five years with his wife, Bunny. That’s what he calls her and damned if I know if that’s her given name. They gave the City of Angels and the so-called big time a real shot before moving to Taos full-time in 1984 as I recall our conversation. I told him I gave LA six months before we didn’t get signed by Capitol Records and my singing partner bailed to return to college and to marry Becky whatshername.

Jimmy’s a whirlwind of energy. It seems like he plays very gig he’s offered. He plays solo, in two bands and is heading to South by Southwest in Texas to perform with fellow Taoseño Michael Hearne in a few days. If anyone rivals Jimmy’s renown in Taos, it’s Hearne and his Big Barn Dance that’s the highlight of the Taos music scene every year. Of course, Jimmy plays that event, too. How could he not?

Plus, he gives private lessons on every string instrument in the western world. It’s clear that he loves to teach almost as much as he loves to perform.

He makes me need a nap.

That candid up top doesn't do Jimmy Stadler justice. I was fighting ferocious back light. I've asked for a more formal portrait session in his spanking new studio.


Sunday, April 14, 2024

At home with the Muratas

Nancy and Hiroshi Murata pose in the entry hall of their amazing Santa Fe home. That's Wolfie the guard dog up front while behind is one of Hiroshi's artworks and the motorcycle Nancy rode when they were in grad school at Yale and could afford one car.

The Muratas.

A glowing black and white portrait of the college sweethearts.

Last Wednesday I had the privilege of photographing Nancy and Hiroshi Murata in their splendid Santa Fe home of twenty years. The occasion was a celebration of those art-filled years in the home that Peggy and I both consider the finest we’ve ever spent meaningful time in. How many square feet make a home a mansion anyway? However large the Murata abode is it’s still welcoming and intimate, no mean accomplishment in my view. The dwelling has a commercial kitchen, a screening room, two studios in a separate building, a guest apartment with a kitchen and bath, seven baths and about a thousand bedrooms. I lost count. Anyway, it’s spectacular and they sold it without our permission. We are highly miffed.

Nancy Murata with the earring that completes the ensemble.

Hiroshi in an unposed moment.

If my mission was to capture the magic of Casa Murata I did a pedestrian job. I was so focused on photographing Nancy and Hiroshi in their best light that the house got second shrift if that.

After the portrait session we met our dear friends Carol and David Farmer for lunch at the estimable Santacafé where Peggy and I first dined in 1993. Nancy and Hiroshi had never met the Farmers and we’d long thought that they should. Happily, they connected like bees to honey. We expect they will become fast friends as was our intent. Luckily, I brought my abacus so was able to compute that the average length of the marriages in our august gathering was a stunning 62 years. The  Farmer’s won the contest at a remarkable 64 years, followed by the Muratas at 62 and the Immels a paltry 57. 

That’s a story for another time.

Sunday, April 07, 2024

Less is more unless it isn't

When I started this journey 18 years ago my posts were a handful of photographs and little text. In that first year, 2006, I accomplished a resounding two posts. It wasn’t until 2010 that I posted at least every week. That has continued since with a whopping 74 posts in 2010 and 2011. Somewhere along the way storytelling became my mission and while the number of images remained relatively constant the written words grew to 500 to 800 words and more in a typical week. Then six years ago I was invited to become a regular contributor to Shadow and Light Magazine. My byline Telling Stories fills 10 of its 100 pages almost every issue, the exceptions being certain special issues like, for example, Color it Red which is self-explanatory.

It took me forty years to be confident enough to call myself a photographer as in “I’m a photographer.” Declaring myself ‘a writer’ came more quickly. I was driving to Albuquerque to shoot a wedding when out of the blue, I realized I was exactly that. Now when asked what I do I respond “I’m a writer and photographer.” The order may be telling.

This is a too long leadup to the occasional post that harkens back to the early days of this blogging adventure. I will occasionally post a few images with little but descriptive text. This entry would have been exactly that, but my verbosity apparently knows no bounds.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

James Iso and the Book of Names

The extraordinary James Iso at Heart Mountain in 2014

Thursday Peggy shared a podcast about a book compiled by students at the University of Southern California to recognize the 125,284 Japanese American citizens imprisoned without due process at so-called internment camps during the Second World War. The oldest, Yaeichi Ota, was 90 when he was shipped to the camp in Arkansas and the youngest, Paul Masachi Masumoto, was born in the Crystal City, Texas camp in 1947 more than a year after the war ended. According to Professor Duncan Ryukan Williams of the University of Southern California whose team compiled the names, “We were going to give people their dignity, their personhood, and their individuality back by making sure we named them correctly in the book and made sure we didn’t leave anybody out, and also that we spelled their names correctly.” The project took three years.

The book is currently on exhibit at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles. It’s in an alcove off the museum’s main lobby where it’s displayed on a pedestal, beautifully bound, and lit like a sacred object. On a thousand pages are 125,284 names to finally be remembered.

A docent flips to the page for Karin Nakahira-Young’s mother Toyoko Toyo Hirai. Nakahira-Young declares “I don’t want to cry on the book.”  She takes a small ink stamp and presses a blue dot next to her mother’s name. The exhibit’s goal is to have every name individually recognized this way. Other than by stamping the book, visitors aren’t supposed to touch it. An old man bent over to kiss the name of his wife who had recently died. Many pages are stained by tears. When I listened to the podcast and got to the part about tear stained pages I thought about James Iso. My eyes welled up and I sobbed. I collected myself and began crying again,

James Iso and Heart Mountain Director Brain Liesinger

James Iso arrived at the Heart Mountain Internment Camp in Powell, Wyoming in 1942. He was 18. Iso and I met at the Heart Mountain Pilgrimage in 2014. I sat across the dinner table from Mr. Iso and overheard him tell the Wyoming Veterans Affairs Commissioner that he had served in three wars. When I encountered him in the museum the next day I introduced myself and said, “Last night I overheard you say that you served in three wars. How is that even possible?”

“It’s true. I served  in World War Two, Korea and Viet Nam but not always in uniform. I started out in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team along with my brother, John. Iso is quoted as saying that he joined the military to “prove beyond a shadow of doubt, my patriotism.”

”But because I spoke Japanese, I became an intelligence operative assigned to General McArthur. We shortened the war by two years by planting disinformation that led the Japanese forces on failed missions throughout the Pacific. The 442nd gets all the recognition because it was the most decorated unit in the war, but we made a major difference behind the scenes, too.”

James Iso and his brother were awarded Congressional Gold Medals in recognition of their patriotism and service to their country. Ronald Reagan appointed him a Foreign Service Officer, a consular officer, and a secretary in the Diplomatic Service of the United States.

Sunday, March 24, 2024

Eddie's Rosemary


As we walked to the Albuquerque Museum from the Hotel Albuquerque in Old Town we strolled along the east wall of the hotel and spied the largest rosemary bush in the Western Hemisphere or so it seemed. As we ogled the 20-foot-wide behemoth a sturdy Hispanic gentleman in a crisp uniform with the name Heritage Hotels on his shirt stopped for a visit. At first our conversation was about the about the huge rosemary plant and how it could flourish against a wall and six inches above a dirt path lined with river stones. We wondered how much water the plant must take. Eddie told us that “We water it three times a day during the summer. I installed a drip system that has valves that spread the water over the whole plant.”

Eddie and his epic Rosemary

We asked Eddie if he headed up the landscaping at the hotel and the Hotel Chaco next door. He said, “No. I’m the number two man. My boss is a younger guy who gives orders but doesn’t do any real work.”

He told us he started landscaping as a teenager in Bernalillo just north of Albuquerque. We guessed Eddie was sixty or give or take. So, he’d been gardening and landscaping for more than forty years. Eddie knew his plants and his pride in his work was palpable. Eddie was a gentleman.

“My wife left me when my kids were little. I couldn’t take care of them and work to support us. So, my folks let me build a little house behind theirs and my mom took care of the children. She was a saint.”

“My mom liked to gamble so I’d take her to play the slots at the Santa Ana Star Casino in Bernalillo. That’s where we always went. I’d take her gambling because that’s what she loved to do the most. One time I had a hot streak where I won $2,500 on the slots and almost immediately I won another $5,000. It was crazy. I always gave her half so she could keep playing. The same thing happened in Bingo, and she got half. She deserved it for everything she did for me.”

He pointed at all the properties nearby that were owned by Heritage Hotels and it was everything in sight. “The owner Mr. Long wants to build another hotel across the street. We just opened The Clyde in the old Hilton downtown. And he owns El Monte Sagrado in Taos and the Inn at Loretto in Santa Fe. He owns a lot of first-class hotels all over New Mexico. We keep growing. He’s the real deal.”

We commented that we knew the properties and that they were the top hotels in each town.

“Yeah. Mr. Long knows what he wants and has the savvy and bucks to make it happen. He wants his properties to be the best. He’s demanding boss but it’s good to be part of something you can proud of.”

As I’ve noted many times in these pages, a first brief encounter can lead to a life story or an intimate snippet. It’s a miracle of sorts. How Eddie went from describing how he cares for the giant rosemary bush to sharing a nugget from his life is a mystery. There was no segue from botany to single parenthood. Yet the most important thing bubbles up to a total stranger. Unprompted and guileless.

It has happened dozens of times and counting.

Sunday, March 17, 2024

ArtsThrive Accolades

Peggy and her Thursday night quickdraw. All of this in two hours.

The unframed wonder.
Peggy and fellow artist Michele Byrne frame Peggy's entries.

Rough Rider, Taos Tipis and Ruedas Turquezas

My little corner of the world.

Once again ArtsThrive was a feast for the cultivated eye. With 335 artworks from 135 artists the annual fundraiser for the Albuquerque Museum was a resounding success and Peggy and I were blessed to be part of it. After five years in Peggy’s case and two for me it was also an opportunity to reconnect with artist friends and collectors who attend every year. I can’t say enough about the handsomely mounted exhibition, the first class food and drink, the music and the professional stewardship provided by Albuquerque Museum Foundation president and CEO Andrew Rodgers, Director of Events Elaine Richardson and Event administrator Erik Parker. They are the very best.

The show is up through April 14. You should take a gander. It's the largest and finest juried exhibition in New Mexico.

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Iconic William Davis

William Davis at home in 2009

At Wilder Nightingale Fine Art in 2016

Bill Davis was the dean of Taos photographers who arrived in our art colony straight from 1967’s Summer of Love in San Francisco. He says he was never a hippy, but I’ve seen pictures that challenge that notion. Photography was Bill’s life. I don’t think he ever did anything else. He was a wonderful writer, too, something for which he was less known. He lived an artful life unflinchingly on his terms.

I don’t recall exactly how and when we met but it must have been shortly after we moved to Taos in 2003. For many years he was part of a photography salon that included Terry Thompson, Howard Green, Cris Pulos, Richard Niemeyer, and me along with the occasional ringer. We met irregularly for ten years or so until it devolved to four codgers meeting for breakfast a half dozen times a year. Of the four, only Terry and I remain. It’s a bitter testament to our octogenarian reality.  Bill will be missed. Two does not make a quorum.

Bill, Terry, Cris, and I had a four man show in 2016. It was called Four Photographers Two Galleries as it was held at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art and David Anthony Fine Art. I am grateful to have shared wall space with Mr. William Davis.

As to photography, Bill left an eclectic body of work beginning with color then mid-century black and white and ending with colorful highly manipulated abstracts constructed on his computer as his mobility declined. Last August Bill had a well-attended, and successful retrospective at the Barreis Gallery. He was surrounded by those who loved him. There are a lot of us. He was faltering physically but demonstrably energized and very much in his element. 

When I saw him two weeks ago, he was bedridden and seemingly asleep. I touched his cheek with my cold February hand. Startled, he grumbled, “Ow! That hurts.” I responded that I thought it would be refreshing. Even in that last visit he was lucid and Bill Davis funny. I left him the most recent copy of Black and White Magazine as I always did. I told him I’d exchange it for a new one on my next visit.