Saturday, June 29, 2013

The earth is flat

The McCullough potato operation is an all natural enterprise and not just for altruistic reasons since quality has gotten better and better since going native.  Puh-leeze don’t use the term “organic” around Jim McCullough.  The word organic has been so misused, abused and downright lied about that it's nearly useless.  We'll go with natural.

Jim controls every step of his operation.  Unlike some farmers, Jim plants, fertilizes, harvests and warehouses his own potatoes.   His team literally invent and build equipment to do jobs that others farm out.  And every decision to keep these big jobs in house has paid off with improved quality and lower costs.  Jim claims he wasn't a school learning kind of guy but you could go to school on his business savvy and intuition.

The top three images have little to do with the potato story but the furrowed fourth is one of Jim McCullough's fields being planted. The abandoned farm house that is about to be leveled and the grain bins, those aesthetic corrugated cylinders, are not potato icons though they do speak to farming generally.  And, of course, since they're all platinum toned black and white they must be serious photographs.

The San Luis Valley has been described as pancake flat.  Uh huh.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The same only different

I intended to follow up with more of the potato story.  Oh but no. It’s funny how an unruly subject can interject itself at the most opportune time.  I must have needed a single image post. 

This one of my good friend Lindsey Enderby is from a couple of years ago.  I like it because it shows the bonhomie of this son of Gainesville, Texas.   Plus it reminds me of the iconic hat back and a lick of hair shot of Will Rogers, another cowpoke with a heaping measure of humor and kindness. 

Anyway, this one seems appropriate since Lindsey and his bride Nancy have just sold their cowboy emporium, Horse Feathers, and are now retired folks like some other people I know.  In truth this is a bittersweet moment since I along tens of thousands (I tend to inflate) of other strays first met Lindsey in the store and wound up as dinner guests at the Enderby homestead.

And where will I idle away my Saturday afternoons now?  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

One Potato Two Potato

A few weeks back I was able to photograph the planting at Jim and Sue McCullough’s mega potato operation in southern Colorado’s San Luis Valley.  City mouse that I am I had no idea that when you plant potatoes you literally plant potatoes.  Sue, a regular painting partner of Peggy’s, had been dangling the chance to photograph the McCullough spread for it seems like a year and I have finally begun my introduction to the complex and oh so equipment intensive business of producing 1,400,000 hundred weight of potatoes.  So this is a major deal.  It is not a timid undertaking or one to be attempted without a full measure of cojones.  And speaking of cojones, Jim says, “You have to have potatoes available when buyers are buying even if some years you lose a little on every sale.”  You're a player or you're not.  So, the intrepid McCulloughs bank, that's the operative word,  on a high yields and high prices most years.  That means reinvesting, re-thinking and re-engineering the business constantly.  Jim aspires to produce and sell 2,000,000 hundred weight of Russets and has a plan in place, which is to say in his head, to do just that. 

This story that will require shooting the sprouting vines around the Fourth of July and the harvest in early fall.  Then there’s the warehousing, packing and distribution extravaganza that is a low light nightmare.  Get ready for a rush of motion blur.

This story has a lot going for it.  It’s new turf.  It’s learning about the dusk to dawn farming lifestyle.  And it’s in my beloved San Luis Valley with the McCulloughs as my hosts.  Big thanks to them. 

Sunday, June 09, 2013

The sky opened and the earth shook

The sky has loomed large in painting and photography from the beginnings of each art form.  A dominant sky demonstrates power, scale and a mythic glimpse of the heavens like nothing else.

Big skies and empty deserts are natural collaborators.  They reflect each other’s vastness.   The Mohave among all deserts draws me and that attraction has been reflected here often.  Though all deserts share the attributes, if that word can apply to negatives, of an odd and meager human population, of abundant and desiccated icons of that habitation and a desperate austerity, the Mohave is more muy malo.  All deserts are inhospitable and forbidding but the Mohave is El Rey of badness. 

When we saw the monumental sky over the desert to our east we immediately got off the Interstate between Kingman and Needles, fingers crossed that we hadn’t missed the moment.  Getting the memorable shot, Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson would testify, is often a matter of seconds and we had few to spare.   Adams, for example, claims he had a minute to take Moonrise Over Hernandez back in 1941 and that he didn’t even have time to meter.  Myth or fact, the tale illustrates a truth. 

You know that sky had to be special for me to stop.  I’m not, shall we say, much of a stopper.  That’s the burden of being an A personality I suppose.   But as a psychiatrist friend has often said, “We have therapies for this.”  And the therapy is stop for the damn shot. 

Has anybody noticed that the titles of my posts are often song lyrics?  And, if so, what’s the name of the tune from which this title came?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

The time of firsts

Continuing the long look back we visit Salinas where I spent two or three early years at the end of the Second World War.  It was in Salinas that my first memories were etched including my first movie, my first best friend, my first crush and first food memory.  I remember that my first film was one starring Esther Williams, my first crush, and featuring a young Latin heartthrob, Ricardo Montalban.  It was either Montalban or the other handsome Latino actor of the forties, Fernando Lamas.  According to Ms. Williams’ filmography the movie must have been Fiesta which was released in 1947.  In an unlikely turn of events Montalban did the voice-overs on television commercials for a Mexican restaurant chain that I operated in the late seventies.  I didn't make that connection until this moment.  Esther Williams is 91 and lives with her third husband in Beverly Hills.  

Both downtown theaters still exist as live music venues and since I have no clue which one ran Fiesta here are both.

My best friend was Ramon Gutierrez who lived with his mother  Sally and his grandmother is a little court where my mother and I rented a bungalow.  Big Ramon was a prisoner of war in Japan who, because he was a gardener by trade and used in that capacity by his captors, came back home relatively whole since he could steal food.  Others were not so fortunate.

I have already told the story of my first food epiphany but it bears repeating since I was apparently born to eat.  On brisk winter afternoons after playing in the slough behind the house Ramon’s grandmother would make flour tortillas and roll them around melting butter. Nothing has ever tasted better or been more soul warming.  I’m convinced that my love affair with food sprung from that seminal experience with the lowly tortilla and I could probably weave my life’s story through the tastes that have punctuated it.