Sunday, February 24, 2013

Here and Gone

Elizabeth Town, New Mexico has long been a favorite of mine.  There’s not much left of the thriving but lawless mining town.  There is a pay for play western town that’s seldom if ever open.  There’s the shell of the Mutz Hotel and there are hulks of automobiles strewn throughout the town’s hillside site.  At the top of the hill Elizabeth Town Cemetery looks down on the whole shebang and is worth the trip all by itself.

It’s hard to imagine that this was once the home of 7,000 residents, substantially larger than the town of Taos today.  Elizabeth Town was, among other things, the first incorporated town in New Mexico, the county seat of Colfax County and the home of serial killer Charles Kennedy who lured at least 14 victims to his boarding house before killing them and incinerating them piece by piece.   A lynch mob led by the notorious Clay Allison put an end to the festivities.  Then they let Kennedy hang for several days to make some kind of statement.  This macabre display may be the genesis of the phrase “left swinging in the wind.”

The Elizabeth Town story began in the fall of 1866 when three prospectors looking for copper found gold instead.  Though they swore themselves to secrecy the vow held for a nano-second and their loose tongues led to an all out gold rush.  It turns out that the site of the town was owned Lucien Bonaparte Maxwell whose Maxwell Land Grant, the nation’s largest, included all of the Moreno Valley and everything east to past Cimarron.  The wealthy Maxwell was quite enterprising.  Since he knew he couldn’t fight the surge of treasure seekers he leased them small parcels, charged claim fees as well as tolls for the road he constructed for their use.  That was 1867.  But by 1872 the mines had stopped producing and just 100 residents remained.  That's a record setting fall from grace for sure. Then the fire of 1903 virtually erased the town and its faint residue is what you’ll find today. 
And who in the devil decorated those rusting cars with plastic flowers?  Roses and Rust, now there's a theme that's right up my alley. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Conservatoire des Ocres Redux

I’m delighted to report that my photograph Conservatoire des Ocres #1 has been nominated for the Masters Cup, the International Award for Color Photography.  This is my second nomination for the prestigious award, the other coming in 2010. 

The press release provided by the Masters Cup says that 8,521 entries from 86 countries were judged by a who’s who of gallerists from New York, London, Shanghai, Paris and so forth. So the field was loaded and I’m tickled to make the cut in the Abstract category. 

If the image looks familiar it’s because it was the subject of a post last summer when it was included in the Color show at the Brooklyn Waterfront Artists Coalition in New York.  As I detailed then, It was taken at the aforementioned Conservatoire des Ocres in Roussillon and the weaving depicted was part of an elaborate display showing the various uses of the rich ochre pigments that were once mined in that famed village perche.
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Sunday, February 17, 2013

Center of Attention

Not far from Farmington in northwest New Mexico is Bisti Badlands, a nearly vacant 42,000 acre patch of desert punctuated by undulating mounds and otherworldly sandstone formations called hoodoos.  After photographing in Chaco Canyon for a couple of days I drove north into Bisti, pronounced Bist Eye.  Then, as often happens with me, the spawn of my original mission to photograph the lumpy hoodoos became a still life of a heart shaped stone resting on the parched earth.  This misdirection is symptomatic of an undiagnosed condition or I stopped to tie my shoe.

Bisti was once covered by an inland sea and has been inhabited, albeit lightly, for 10,000 years.  Remnants of a Chacoan society are abundant as is the burned hulk of the old trading post.  These worthy subjects along with the mounds, hoodoos and shallow arroyos that riddle the landscape would fill a book for Pete’s sake.  And all you get is a stupid rock. 


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Clean Coal For An Energy Independent Future

I’ve passed the Cholla Power Plant, a coal fired energy behemoth, many times as I’ve driven across northern Arizona between New Mexico and California.  I’ve always found the thing compelling in a post apocalyptic Blade Runner sort of way but have never stopped long enough to capture its wonders.  When I got in the patience line they were fresh out.  However, this past Tuesday I finally shot it at its belching, spewing best, opaque plumes soaring into the sky near Holbrook and a thin blue ooze blanketing the ground for half a mile or so.  I’ve never been able to reconcile the term “clean coal.”  Isn't that an oxymoron?  Let's just say that the eruption shown above did little to assuage my skepticism.  I guess it depends on what your definition of clean is.  Clean compared to what exactly?  Chernobyl?  Bhopal? 
That fact is that polluters can profess anything they wish and, according to the gospel of Karl, if they say it often enough it will be true.  The inconvenient real truth is that the Cholla Plant is ejecting vapor, smoke and particulate matter into the heavens.  It is what it is.  The glass eye does not lie. 

Hey, I totally get the desire to achieve energy independence and can even accept some give between unyielding environmentalism and damn the torpedoes exploration.  It’s just that I don’t buy that coal can be clean or that fracking doesn’t endanger our ground water.  Or maybe it’s that I don’t trust producers to do it cleanly even if it is technically possible.  As long as a cheaper is better ethic prevails energy companies will inevitably cut an important corner somewhere along the line.  Think Deep Water Horizon.
That headline just drips with sarcasm doesn't it?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Inside at the outside

The left for dead buildings that I so often photograph also have interiors you’ll be surprised to know.  Interiors can tell what happened here even better than exteriors because of the human artifacting within.  We can tell if the purpose for the edifice was entirely residential or if there was a commercial aspect to the enterprise.  We may be able to establish the date of the building’s last habitation by what’s left behind or deduce how quickly the departed, well, departed.

Stretching the length of Highway 62 from Rice to Twenty Nine Palms are some pretty sketchy dwellings, ones that compare favorably to those on our West Mesa and Tres Piedras or another California’s beauty spot, the Salton Sea.  Folks living  in places like these must have an odd sense of place or lack thereof.  That summer temps reach 120 adds a dose of unreality to the whole ensemble.  Then there’s the Marine Corps firing range that surrounds this ribbon of hell.  If the heat doesn’t get you a howitzer might.