Sunday, June 17, 2018

After Bourdain: Essays on food, drink and life

The passing of Anthony Bourdain left a jagged hole in the middle of my chest. It was a like a brother from a different mother departed this earth. 

As an “essayist”, the title he gave himself, he was peerless. Superficially a food writer or a travel host he was much more than either. He gave us a window into the greater world, with food as the catalyst for knowing our brethren better. His efforts prompted countless people to get passports and to become world citizens. He recently said, “I wish more people would get passports.” I'm pretty sure he meant that folks would benefit, would grow, if they visited other places and discovered that people are more alike than different, everywhere. As our country turns inward, that revelation is essential.

Bourdain started travelling in earnest at 43 though he had spent some summers in France as a boy. It was there that he slurped his first oyster, marveled at its briny sweetness and was changed forever. We, also, travelled to Europe for the first time in our early forties. We inhaled it deeply and became citizens of that greater world, empowered but with a twinge of regret that we hadn’t done it much earlier

On that adventure, one that happened during a three-year sabbatical, we travelled first cabin, stayed at four-star hotels and reveled in memorable meals such as the unforgettable dining experience at the Priory in Bath, England. From the swank Royal Crescent in Bath we drove to a manor house in the midst of manicured gardens. We sipped champagne while waiting to be seated, selected a magnificent 1966 La Fort de la Tour Bordeaux, Chateau La Tour’s second label, had a sumptuous meal with dishes I don’t remember, and repaired to the library for brandy and cigars. The event, the only appropriate word for it, was so historic that it stands as “our best meal ever” after 34 years perhaps because it was our first such extravagance. A 2011 lunch at Alain Ducasse's Bastide de Moustiers does challenge for the title, I grant you.

Yet other meals in that exploratory voyage of 1984 are also etched in our minds, meals not riven with pomp and pretense. They were of simpler sensibilities and, as such, more warmly remembered. Bourdain spoke to this contrast in a recent interview. His words were, in effect, that as he got older the less interest he had in the self-congratulatory fine dining performance and craved unprepossessing restaurants and food carts where he could eat with the people in their places.

Breaking bread with a stranger or, for that matter, toasting them with good Irish whiskey brings you closer to them. Connecting with another human being is what makes us tick. As Bill Maher says, “I don’t know it for a fact. I just know that it’s true.”

No one makes friends with the front waiter or sommelier at The French Laundry or Le Bernardin, but you might if you met them as equals in the taqueria of their choice. Barriers of position and class disappear and you’re just a couple of swells enjoying fish tacos and icy Negra Modelo.

Anthony Bourdain was doing what a lot of us dream of doing, travelling the world, immersing ourselves in exotic cultures, digging beneath the surface and striding brashly across the television screen while reporting in bold, expressive prose what we saw and what we believed it meant in human terms. It’s certainly my dream job. Which is like wishing I’d written a best-seller about the dark profane crazed underbelly of the restaurant business but without the descent into addiction.  I’d call it “Kitchen Confidential” but I think that title has already been used.

Food is thread with which my life has been woven. Every milestone moment in my long life is punctuated by a dining experience or a “food epiphany”, a magical taste of something so different it’s life altering.

This is the first in a series of essays about food, places and people.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Yippee Ki Yay

As I drove back from my Sunday run (I use the term loosely) I saw a sign advertising El Rodeo de Taos that will be held June 22 and 23 this year. It’s a dusty affair that brings out the cowboy and cowgirl in all of us. It takes me back to my first rodeo in Salinas, California about 1946. Yes, that’s more than seventy years. The Salinas spectacular began in 1911 at Sausal Park Race Track and was loftily called The California Rodeo from the get-go. The grandstand was expanded to seat a robust 14,000 in 1935 and is the venue I would have visited at the ripe age of five. The California Rodeo is still the biggest and most popular in the Golden State.

Rodeo started in the days of the Spanish rancheros. Its name come from the Spanish word for round up or “rodear” a factoid I didn’t know till this very day, proving that I’m never too old to learn something of no importance.

Suffice it to say, I look forward to cowboying up in two weeks. Yippee ki yay.

These teasers are from last year’s Rodeo de Taos and the National Day of the Cowboy at the Mortenson Ranch Arena in Santa Fe.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Tubular, man.

The cylinder is elegantly strong and simple. Here a towering Saguaro near Tucson, one of the three stacks at the shuttered Dynergy natural gas power plant in Morro Bay, California and grain silos in sleepy Sudan, Texas vie for airspace.

It's a marvelous form, the way its shape gathers volume from the shadows that caress its roundness. Soft porn descriptions aside, the camera does love the cylinder.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Morada Libre

There’s not a whole lot to say about these two images. The first is a rather traditional (hackneyed) shot of a ladder against an faux adobe wall the other is a (hackneyed) window and real adobe vignette at La Morada de Nuestra Señor de Guadalupe. So, the connection is either adobe or hackneyed.

Come to think of it, there is a story lurking beneath the surface of image two and is that of access or lack thereof to the aforementioned morada. My understanding has been that the rights of the public and, specifically, of artists and photographers to visit and depict the morada was guaranteed in the agreement that conveyed the morada from the Taos Historic Museums to the archdiocese of Santa Fe about ten years ago. Rebutting that belief is a conspicuously placed sign on the entry gate to the morada which says that painting and photography are not allowed. I have conspicuously ignored said sign, the evidence of which is flaunted above.

The last time Peggy and an artist friend attempted to paint there they were told to cease and desist by an officious member of the Penitente Brotherhood who said that the morada is a sacred place which would be defiled if memorialized by camera toting barbarians. I paraphrase liberally.

After a short interchange which culminated by Peggy saying. “I don’t want to debate it with you anymore.” she and her friend departed the scene. I, on the other hand, will photograph the morada this very day as a matter of principal.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Form follows Function

Of late, especially on Instagram, I’ve been posting photographs of ordinary mechanical things; wires, conduit, pipes and the like. I've referred to this series as "The backside of the frontside." To my surprise, the images of things that are not in the least artful have been among the best received. Go figure.

I will surmise that the appeal stems from the geometric designs that are a product the efforts of engineers, electricians and plumbers who, generally speaking, try to install these functional things in a trim, straight and plumb fashion (except for the wires which are a nightmare of tangled webs) and that order creates tempting patterns like these.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

We don't need no stinking camera

Of late I’ve been ducking into alleys and behind the monotonous blur of postcard scenes that abound in Taos. If you who follow me on Instagram you've seen plenty of these since our visit to Pueblo, Colorado back in March. All of those Instagram pics were shot with my iphone 7 which is always at hand and which boosts I mighty fine onboard camera. As my friend John Farnsworth jokes, “It’s a camera that’s also a phone.” 

The backstreet images here were made with an honest to gosh camera, my Canon 5D Mk lll. The mighty unit is the third most used camera among the professional class behind a couple of Nikons. Truth be told, the iphone performs some kind of alchemy and has left me wondering whether a big megapixel camera is even necessary. I say that barely in jest.

Señor Farnsworth has already reached that conclusion. At this very moment the boy is wending his way back to Taos after some four months in his beloved Antigua.

Bien venidos, Juanito.                   

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Simple and intricate

I was wandering around Taos Plaza looking for obscure mechanical elements to photograph. That dictated ducking into alleys as I am wont to do. Then there was the appealing Orthodox Jewish family that I tracked for several blocks, hoping to capture their black attire, yarmulkes and payot (sidelocks) that seemed more at home on Manhattan's Lower East Side than Taos. Coming up empty I placed myself smack dab in the middle of the plaza in order to capture the budding trees and sky above me.

The intricacy of trees never ceases to amaze.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Alain Comeau

Shortly after my descent into the abyss of digital photography I began making portraits that adhered to a 1920s Edward Weston dictum that proclaimed the cloudless sky as the perfect backdrop for portraiture. This 2002 image of climbing guide, sailor and musician Alain Comeau was among my initial efforts. Could he look more French?

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Camera Obscura

Josef Tornick is an accomplished photographer in Santa Fe. I’ve lost touch with the man though he pops up on social media from time to time. When he unsubscribed from my blog a couple of years back I closed the door on the dude. I unfriended him on Facebook. Take that. Hey, I got this portrait out of the relationship didn't I? The shallow depth of field lends an appealing softness to the image. And I do like it when my victim looks the camera straight in the eye.

Josef, who's something of a seeker, describes himself as a project-oriented humanist documentary photographer. And you thought I overused adjectives. His humanist documentary photography book "Tir A Mhurain - 50 Years On" is a visual ode to the windswept landscape and hardy inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides and Aran Islands just off the western coast of Ireland. It may be his magnum opus. I'm still seeking mine.

The 50 Years in the title refers to Paul Strand's 1954 "Tir A Mhurain" from which Tornick drew his inspiration. Tir A Mhurain translates to "Marram Grass" which is a common name for bent grass or seagrass.

Josef Tornick proclaims that he is self-taught, an affliction with which I am familiar. He counts Josef Sudek, Manuel Bravo, Flor Garduno, Paul Strand, Sebastiao Salgado, David Michael Kennedy and Keith Carter as models for his work.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Model's Model: Donald Blake

Day before yesterday I saw Instagram and Facebook posts from Reid Callanan the owner of the Santa Fe Workshops, one of the premiere photography workshop operations in the country. In his entries Callanan writes about Donald Blake who has modelled at the Workshops for almost twenty years. To celebrate that milestone, the school has just published a book of his portraits. I had the privilege of photographing Donald during an extraordinary portrait lighting class with Alan Thornton ten years ago this summer. Didn't see mine in the book though.

In his commentary Callanan extols Donald’s grasp of the portrait making craft, allowing that he has “offered more insights and advice than many of our instructors.” I can attest to it. While I was taking his portrait, he was suggesting where to place the softboxes, what angle would be best, even the f-stop. And he was right on all counts.

Donald was recovering from a serious illness at the time. Don't recall the malady. Though he appeared frail he was 100% engaged and very much in command. We were shooting in a recently shuttered hospital so we were awash in ghoulish props. As a matter of fact, he was sitting in a wheelchair between institutional green walls when this was taken. The setting was ironic given his condition.

During his nearly twenty year modelling stint at the Workshops Donald’s portrait has been taken by hundreds of photographers. They include students like me and famous ones like Joe McNally who has called Donald Blake his favorite model, period. McNally’s photographs are predictably the first two in the new book. He, like Reid Callanan, calls Donald a friend, first, then a model. That’s as much a testament to the man as the book.

The title is “Donald.” It’s available from

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Buy dear. Sell low.

Continuing the look back at portraits made over the years, here’s one of Taos icon Joe Graves. It was taken at Lynn Canterbury’s abode in Alcalde, NM on the same photographically rich day that Lynn’s was made.

Like Lynn, Joe is a mountain man but one of a more modern persuasion. No early nineteenth century regalia for Joe. He’s a living breathing man of the land and another maker of useful things, like flints for starting fires. Joe is one tough customer. I’ve heard tell that one time he lost a tooth. So, he promptly carved a wooden one that he tied into place with monofilament. I’m pretty sure there was no Novocain involved. You'll be relieved to know that some months later Joe was able to buy a bona fide false tooth in Mexico.

One day I was sitting in Lindsey Enderby’s Horse Feathers store while Lindsey held court and Joe and I listened raptly. Joe was demonstrating one of his handmade fire starters when Lindsey gave me an arched eye that said, “You’ll buy that thing if you know what’s good for you.” Ever compliant, I asked Joe how much it was. Joe gave me a price of say, $25.00. I looked at Lindsey who jerked his right thumb upward as if to say “higher.” Being the intrepid negotiator that I am, I doubled the price.

Never pay less if you can pay more. That’s my motto.

Sunday, April 01, 2018

1.3 degrees of separation from Lindsey Enderby

Last week I said I’d post a photograph of my dear friend Lindsey Enderby. Turns out I had lunch with the boy yesterday along with his friend and mine, Lucky Bill Parrish, the renowned cowboy baritone and all ‘round good guy from Richmond, Virginia. In a wide-ranging conversation over bountiful burgers at the Taos Ale House, Bill and I circled around to the fact that we had both met Lindsey at his legendary cowboy emporium, Horse Feathers, Bill in 1994 and I around 2004. Lindsey takes in strays, so we immediately joined his band of merrymen and have grown into late middle age while in his thrall.

I posited that if there are six degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon there are precisely 1.3 degrees from Lindsey Enderby meaning that if you ask Jim Bob in Harlan County, Kentucky if he knows Lindsey, he will, he will have met him at Horse Feathers even though Jim Bob has never left the holler. It’s a miracle of science and a mystery of the universe I’m telling you.

In the image above Lindsey is doing his best Will Rogers impression, an aw shucks persona behind which lurks a steely eyed ex-lawyer, student body president at SMU and all post football champeen in his Army Reserve days. It was taken in the late, much missed Horse Feathers store in late April 2008.

Ten years. How they fly.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lynn Canterbury, Mountain Man

Usually I find an image to post by going through digital files that relate to the theme of the moment, in this case portraits. Today, though, a print jumped out at me, grabbed me by the shorts and demanded representation.

Prompted by the print I searched for the original file. It wasn’t in its rightful home, the Monumental Heads portfolio. So, I photographed the print on the top of the stereo cabinet in the living room window, handheld no less.

Lynn Canterbury is later day frontiersman, mountain man reenactor and a maker of tools from the early nineteenth century. This was taken at Lynn’s Alcalde (mayor in English) New Mexico home in a living room crammed with things being crafted and materials for a myriad of projects.

My best guess is that this was taken about ten years ago on an excursion led by my great friend Lindsey Enderby, the lapsed lawyer and full-time raconteur.

Come to think of it, that day whenever it was, was a fine one for portraits. Lovely open shade and good, good, good, good vibrations.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Another man in a hat: Fedora Issue

Peter Lev is a big time rock and ice climber as well as a noted avalanche forecaster. He calls the later skill a black art, one that’s more a crap shoot than a precise science. Like our dear friend George Hurley, Peter got his first taste of vertical rock while a student at the University of Colorado in the late fifties. That passion morphed into an ownership stake in famed Exum Mountain Guides in Moose, Wyoming which is the oldest climbing school in the United States.

Now a resident of Lead, North Dakota, pronounced lead as in leader not lead as in led, Peter continues to climb the famed Needles in Custer State Park, a state park that rivals many a National Park for shear grandeur. This candid photograph happened over adult beverages in the town of Hot Springs during a climbing trip. Matter of fact, George was in attendance, too.

The man has a great mug but he winced about this depiction. Said it made him look older than his years. I feel his pain.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

A man and his hat

Troy Brown left our company last year. I had the pleasure of attending a party in his memory at his beloved cabin in Taos Ski Valley last summer. I can say “pleasure” because it was an upbeat do hosted by his wife of more than fifty years. She and Troy were high school sweethearts may be even grammar school. Her name is Peggy so when Troy and I talked about our wives the terms we used the terms ‘my Peggy’ and ‘your Peggy.’

Troy was a fine watercolorist whose work reflected his architectural training and practice back in Texas.

The well-worn hat was his trademark

Sunday, March 04, 2018

The height of disinterest

Continuing the portrait series here's a ten year old shot of an unnamed model during a photo session at the state prison on the Turquoise Trail south of Santa Fe. It was taken under a wooden guard tower if memory serves. So, it was in open shade and with a single white reflector to provide fill. The young woman was wearing a monster hang over and was as interested as her face suggests. It comes across melancholy but was outright boredom.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Taos Is Art

I’m pleased to be among the 66 artists whose artwork was juried into “Taos Is Art” joining 18 invited masters for a total of 84 banners throughout historic downtown Taos from April through October. The program will include 59 large banners flown on the Plaza and on our main street, Paseo del Pueblo, along with 25 on streets surrounding famed Taos Plaza. My photograph “Moon Over Ranchos” will be among the 25 15”x30” banners. I join photographers Zoe Zimmerman, Sasha Vam Dorp, Nina Anthony, Meredith Garcia, Debbie Lujan and Steve Bundy. Congratulations to all.

Taos has been a mythic art colony for 120 years and continues to be a singular place revered for creating art. No place I know compares to Taos in embracing art as a way of life. And that's not just the visual arts. There's a vibrant writing community and a music scene that compares with cities twenty times its 5,500 population. The night before last I saw British bluesman William Topley at the Solar Center north of town. It was the first stop on his North American tour before starting a residency in Austin. It's telling that an internationally known musician even knows there is a Taos. 

Taos is art.

I’ll get back to the weekly portraits next time.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

A face at the time

Climbing guide, Alain Comeau, 2002

I'm launching a weekly series of portraits. Some are damn old. There are at least two reasons that I'm digging so deep. One, some like this one, were shot with my first big boy digital camera and, two, I wanted a subject that needs only one image. I'm entering my film making period and need as much time as possible to learn that complex and foreign language. Third, as if I need it, is that I'm not photographing much and need to fill blog space the lazy man's way. Resort to the old stuff.

My first filmic endeavor will be a short video that shines a light on the fraught issue of meeting women in the metoo moment. I threw the idea out there and my fellow students chose the darn thing. It's supposed to be sketch in the vein of Saturday Night Live, one that threads the needle of laughs with appreciation for the gravity of the conversation.

So a man goes into a bar......

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Good Bones

Pueblo has suffered a series of setbacks since its apex at the turn of the 20th century. The great flood of 1921 nearly destroyed downtown Pueblo and 1,500 people lost their lives. And when the city’s steel mill closed in 1982 the knockout blow was delivered. As Pueblo’s biggest employer the closure left “Steel City” without its economic engine and with its future uncertain.

In its heyday the city boasted a vibrant downtown and seemed destined to become the capitol of Colorado. The bones of the once thriving city center remain but its stores and businesses are largely shuttered. The River Walk neighborhood along the banks of the Arkansas River is Pueblo’s attempt to create an arts and entertainment district, one that has potential to attract tourists and new residents to the city. That hasn't materialized but there's tremendous potential for it. We even mused about building a vital art community where low rents and empty space abound. But the leap of faith would be huge. Right now Pueblo is a languishing mill town where Olive Garden and Texas Roadhouse are considered upscale dining. I am such a snob.

Drawn as I am to urban downtowns, I've noticed Pueblo’s skyline each time I've driven I-25 to and from Denver. The Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in downtown Pueblo lured me off the freeway a couple of years when I stopped to see a stellar Ansel Adams exhibit and again two weeks ago for an opening. Combine a visit to the arts center with lunch at the redoubtable Shamrock Brewing Company for house made beers and hearty pub fare. Those are the makings of worthwhile afternoon. 

And while you're at it, take a stroll through the trove of late 19th century structures that fill the city. I love them and the signs that speak to halcyon days.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

Good Morning at the Goodnight Barn

The Goodnight Barn was built in 1870 and is the only standing edifice from the Charles Goodnight’s sprawling Rock Canyon Ranch west of Pueblo, Colorado. The stone barn is considered architecturally significant and is the subject of a fundraising effort intended to restore it to its historic glory. Part of that effort is an art show that opened Friday night at the splendid Sangre de Cristo Arts Center in Pueblo's downtown. 

Over the years the barn fell into disrepair, sheltered transients and earned the moniker “the party house” for reasons that are self-explanatory. Today it's propped up by beams, details of which are abstracted below.

While the barn is historically important, its provenance gained luster when I learned that Charles Goodnight and Oliver Loving, his cattle driving partner back in Texas, were the real-life models for the characters Woodrow Call and Gus McCrae in Larry McMurtry’s epic “Lonesome Dove.” 

And now you know the rest of the story.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

First Steps

A few days ago, my friend, the photographer and painter John Farnsworth, did an Instagram post about the beginnings of the digital photography age. He harkens back to a whopping one-megapixel unit that could store all of 70 images. My own baby steps came with a Nikon Coolpix 5000, so named because of its stellar 5 megapixels of resolution. I did a search yesterday that told me my sweet little point and shoot weighed in at a hefty $1, 095. Holy crap, batman. Today we can pick up a mirrorless unit with a one-inch sensor and 20 megapixels for, oh, $450.

The cool Coolpix entered the market in November of 2001 and I, trailblazer that I am, owned one shortly thereafter.  It was this darling unit that gave me my first inkling of digital’s promise. Shown above is a shot of an agave plant at famed Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, California. I was impressed from the get go. My fate was sealed.

In late March 2002 I had a ski trip to France planned and, as misfortune would have it, Canon announced the first truly high resolution DSLR, the 1Ds with 10.1 megapixels in a body the weight and size of a mainframe computer. And they had the audacity to charge $7,995 for the monster. Naturally, I needed one for my trip and embarked to Zurich, Geneva and Chamonix $7,700 lighter. The image above is from that legendary machine. My skiing was much improved as you can imagine.

To those who have slept through this movie before. Deal with it.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Trio of trucks in the snow

This truck and its two companions are arguably the most photographed in all of Taos County. And Taos county is the national capital of abandoned vehicles. Cloaked in a snowy blanket the truck in the foreground makes a wintery statement, one that Taos and famed Taos Ski Valley would like to be making right about now. Up at TSV the snow pack, like that of California’s Sierra, is 4% of normal. The paltry number bodes ill for our rivers, streams and acequias.

But Sunday we were blessed by six inches of fluff, even more up at the Ski Valley. Temps dipped from the mid-fifties on Saturday to a predicted high of 28 Sunday. And that’s a good thing.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

And the winner is

Presbyterian Church, Taiban, NM 48 points

My highly sophisticated research project designed to reveal the most liked blog images from 2017 has informed us thusly. Two photographs Millwork, Taiban, NM and Abandonado scored zero, zilch, nada. And one that I loved, Porcelain Doll, got on the scorecard with a resounding four points thanks to a last minute reprieve. 

Thanks for your feedback.

Pickets, Point Reyes, CA 37 points

Bent to the Task, Antigua, Guatemala 28 points
Afternoon Delight, Winslow, AZ 27 points
Hard Charging, Mortenson Ranch, NM 27 points



Sunday, January 07, 2018

Year of Years: 2017. Click here to see full screen.

Vendadora, Antigua, Guatemala

Here's a look back at the images that bring the past year into focus for me. These selections are about the photographs themselves; some may be well crafted and others may tell a compelling story. Maybe some do both.

I hope that you will take the two extra steps of, first, clicking on the title line you see above. That will take you to the blog. Second, click on the first image. That will create a row of thumbnails through which you can click to fill your screen with wonder and amazement.

Would you be so kind as to choose your favorite three? You can comment below or email your choices. Thanks very much.

Maria, Antigua, Guatemala

Presbyterian Church, Taiban, NM

Millwork, Taiban, NM

Lap Chicken, Rayado, NM

The Citadel, Ghost Ranch, NM

Sanctuary, Coyote, NM

Silky Tresses, Taos, NM

All Things Wool, Taos, NM

Pickets, Point Reyes, CA

Abandonado, Des Moines, NM

Bent to the Task, Antigua. Guatemala

Mesa sin Sillas, Antigua, Guatemala

Afternoon Delight, Winslow, AZ

Homage to Lenny, Taos, NM

Winding Eastward, Tucumcari, NM

Cliff Rose, Grand Canyon, AZ

Hard Charging, Taos, NM

Buckaroo, Taos, NM

The Blessing, Antigua, Guatemala

Porcelain Doll, Taos, NM 

Gracias y Feliz Nuevo Año.