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.