Sunday, December 29, 2019

And the winners are

Coyote Fence and Sky, Ranchos de Taos, NM
Here are your selections as the best or most liked images from 2019. Thanks for your invaluable if confusing input. Your choices were all over the place. Notably, as was the case last year, the top votes getters were evenly split between images taken with professional cameras and my ever present iphone 7. The top two and three of the top five were made with an iphone. My secret, if there is one, is processing the files with the most excellent smart phone app, Snapseed.

Crossed Paths, Keremma, France

Gas Station, Vaughn, NM

Ranchitos Fog, Taos, NM

Adobe Abode, Golden, NM

And as I opined last year, photos from an iphone rival those from a “real” camera. The limitation being the small sensor which, in my judgment, will not allow for a big print.

Which of these are from my Canon 5d Mk 3 or Sony RX100 Mk 6 and which are from the iphone 7?

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Year of Years, 2019

This is a look back at the images that stood out in 2019 according to me. They may be well designed, be appealing or tell a story. Your favorites may hit all the notes. That would be grand.

I hope you’ll take the two extra steps of, first, clicking on the title line you see above. That will take you to the actual blog. Then click on the first image which will display a full screen image. A full size computer screen will show the images to their best advantage. And mine.

Crossed Paths, Keremma, France
The Road to Magdalena, West of Socorro, NM
Silver Strand, Keremma, France
Store, Clarkdale, CO
Gas Station, Vaughn, NM
Metal Clad, Encino, NM
Sangre View, Tres Piedras, NM
Ranchitos Fog, Taos, NM
El Rancho Grande, Marfa, TX
Big Time Corral, Valentine, TX
Falling Snow, Valdez, NM
Clapboard Abode, Golden, NM
Coyote Fence and Sky, Ranchos de Taos, NM
Socks and Skinny Jeans, Union Station, Denver
Frolic, El Prado, NM
Wheeled Transport, Paris
Water Wagon, San Francisco
From Here to Marin, San Francisco
Siblings, San Francisco
Here Lies Bernardo Salazar, Valdez, NM

Would you be so kind as to choose your favorite of these images? In fact, pick your top five rank ordered. I'll share the results. 

Comment below or email your response. Gracias y Feliz Nuevo Año.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

It's Now or Never

Peggy and Steve at the opening or our fourth biannual two person show at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art in Taos. We're downright giddy aren't we. The event coincided with my 78th.

I received a wealth of advice in response to last week's blog Turning Corners. It all came from folks between the mid-60s and 81. The rest of you slackers are too young to relate.

The distilled take is that I should narrow the scope of my investigation, choose one, or at least fewer, of my targets and get on with it. The consensus is Sell the Porsche, Buy the Sprinter and make whatever it is happen. This floundering has gone on long enough.

These comments have been lightly edited for clarity and to protect the innocent.

If I travelled four months at a crack I'd be as happy as John Farnsworth.

John Farnsworth, in Cusco, Peru as of Friday and who the hell knows where today, wrote:

“There went my morning! Being a bit older and not a bit wiser, there, probably, will go the next days, weeks, months even, wrestling with most of the same issues, plus a few of my own devising. 

I have, just this moment, made a decision, or had a revelation. Not sure which. I have had forefront in my mind for the better part of a year, “I’m almost eighty!”. In just over three months I will turn seventy nine. At that point, no, right now, I’m changing that thought to “I’m not eighty, yet!” 

Next, I intend to devote what’s left of my seventies to visualizing who and what I want to be during my eighties.

I intend to change my thinking from “the autumn of my life is almost over and I’m about to slide into winter” to, “Wow, this has been a chilly winter, but, hurray, here comes spring again”!

Here’s to new plans, new dreams, new accomplishments…

Whatever we do in the next years, let’s be sure to do some of it together, ol’ friend!”

Juan Viejo

To which I responded:

“Yes, we will do some or a lot of it together. I’m still at the figuring out stage. Good comments all, Juan. I think I’ll devote what’s left of what’s left to “being” what I want to be. That’s opposed to thinking about what I want to be. There’s been quite enough navel gazing.” S

Lindsey, the most popular cowboy in the known world.

And from dear friend Lindsey Enderby came step by step instructions:


         What’s next?

Bundle the fun; what can I afford, enjoy the most, and what would Peggy like.

           1. Sell Sports car

            2. Purchase Sprinter van

            3. Take guitar and speed 


             4. Keep camera handy

              5. Pick up camera and

                    guitar in daily fitness 


               6. Eat well and often

                7. Good wine (what else?)

                8. Keep and enlarge Blog

                9. Seek adventure

                10. Enjoy the slow pace

I’ll keep thinking.”


From me came:

Absolutely nothing.

Mark Asmus, all 6'-6'" of him. From the Immel Studio.

Mark Asmus said:

“I need to read this one over a few times.  Lots buried in here which we can all relate to.  Comments will follow. Good being with you Friday.  Assume you recovered your wallet.”

I responded:

“M. Lots to contemplate for sure. I’m still flummoxed. Yes, the coat and wallet were waiting for me. Look forward to your comments as well as further discussion. S”

Uh, your comments did not follow, Mark.

And from Anonymous came this wisdom:

“Hi Steve,

I always love your stuff which I get from whatshisname. Your musings have certainly resonated with me, as I turned 81 last week and have been assessing my situation for some months now. It had momentarily totally ruined my mood but, I'm happy to report making the decisions have lifted the huge weight and I am getting back to normalcy. I think this is what you're doing right now. And, yes, it is depression, something I don't usually wallow in except for maybe a few weeks at a time, not a month’s worth. What I did was decide to give up tennis and skiing and take up pickle ball. A few other decisions but essentially the first two weighed heavily on my mind, having to admit that I've just gotten too old to do those sports the way I want to do them.

One suggestion I have for you in the service department which may satisfy part of your longing and not tax you one iota! This fall, whatshisname and I met with a fellow (Louis Moya) at UNM Klauer Campus to fund scholarships for their students. For $500 a student, we are making a difference in some person's life. Yes, Louis assures us that $500 is a make or break amount of money for some of the students who can get Pell Grants but lack the money for things like gas, supplies, babysitting, etc. We were given about a dozen essays from the applicants and we chose three, originally wanting to choose only two until we saw how it worked. But, one more applicant was just too compelling to pass up. If you are interested in this, Mark and/or I can explain further and put you in touch with Louis. The Spring term is coming up soon.

Btw, I was impressed with your "Bucket List" and wonder if you haven't set the bar too high. It sets you up for failure and more depression! Pick just one or two. I know you love unsolicited advice! No, wait. You did solicit it from Mark so maybe I should run this by him before I click Send. Nah. I love shooting off my mouth!

Love and good luck.”

Jamie Hindman offered this:

Focus  on writing...mucch as I love your photography, given the nature of fine art photography art marketing, if you are looking for validation there you will make yourself crazy...There's work to be done as your stripmine your experiences and intuit the path ahead. Too many choices lead to overthinking I have found. Grab one and run.

A studio Portrait of photographer and friend, Daryl Black.

Daryl wrote:

"Absolutely adored this blog of introspection at age 78. Fred's comment? I want that breakfast right now. Lucky for you, we know many people who turned 80 this year, are 80+ and continue to be avid fourteeners and kick butt climbing mountains I Colorado and Nee Mexico. You should meet some of these folks. Just amazing. But first, you asked for it and here it is. Start jettisoning the emotional baggage for the Porsche, prepare it for sale, and buy the damn Sprinter. Heck, you were talking about that years ago when we were out on photo shoots. Those two things would really set the tone for other things might want to do. Giving back would be easier as well if you had the Sprinter. You could go yo wildfires, floods, etc. and offer your services. You could get stories and take photographs in the process. A real photojournalism workshop in progress. I am so happy Terry T has asked you to be a second shooter. You'll be a great team. So, so much potential coming up, Senor. As they say in the Times, we will look forward to reading all about it."

To Jamie and Daryl’s comments I responded:

“Thanks to both of you. Good advice all around. There’s a groundswell for losing the Porsche, buying the camper van and wandering forth to find stories worth telling. And there’s a plurality that says stop drowning in an ocean of choices. Pick a gold ring and reach for it. Decisions, decisions. Yes, to the writing.”

I’ll say this. It’s sure easier when you write my blog for me. Peggy said she didn’t know that I was that I was so depressed by 78. I told her that I was maybe possibly in a funk for half a day but “How dare you say depressed.”

It’s gratifying to know that others (everybody?) faces the abyss with a measure of trepidation and uncertainty. Most of us had made accommodations brought on by advancing age. Anonymous gave up skiing and tennis, my Spanish group cohort stopped skiing, like Anonymous Terry T has given up tennis for Table Tennis. I stopped road cycling and downhill skiing when I was diagnosed with Osteoporosis five year ago. Being the diehard that I am I will take that decision under advisement after my January bone density test. Cycling was the sport where I could still approximate my performance of early middle age, so it is not a fait accompli. Yet.

Garrett and his proud dad last Thursday.

Our son Garrett, age 52, visited last week and that was a tonic for this old psyche. To be close to your kid is an invaluable treasure. And to feel that the gap in our ages is smaller than the math suggests is priceless. To be able (still) to do the same adventures with the same appreciation and energy informs the immediate future and tells me that maintaining fitness, both physical and mental, is job one. “We exercise to preserve function” wrote author Jeff Jerome in The Complete Book of Running at least 35 years ago. That axiom has been my religion since the mid-70s.

So, I can’t tell you what’s next for me or how I’ll choreograph the next 78 years. I imagine I will choose what’s most compelling and get after it. Since I’m so scattershot the choosing will be the hardest part of achieving something of real importance. Choosing fewer goals means not doing the other things. And that’s just appalling.

On second thought it was harder to edit your stuff than to start from scratch. But it was worth it.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Turning Corners

Serious breakfast at Sears Fine Foods in San Francisco
When I woke up at 5:00am on the morning of my 78th birthday I had the sinking feeling that I had finally turned the corner to oldness and should stop fooling myself. That’s never happened before. So, why now? There’s no demonstrable difference between 77 and 78 after all. Yet it felt wildly different. I suppose those blues can be attributed to seeing a tractor-trailer full of 8 Zero steaming toward me like a tsunami of decrepitude.

I came out of my funk over breakfast. Food will do that for me. We had a wee celebration that included half a dozen birthday cards and calls from my son and four buddies of long standing. Peggy had me giggling by third cup of coffee and left for her studio so I could do whatever the hell I wanted. And, as always, that means something from columns A through D. Exercise, ideally both cardio and strength training, a creative pursuit which more and more is writing, a good meal with an interesting wine and a page turner before I turn off the lights. The best days have all of the above.

Yet, a malaise has swept over me since September 11. Not exactly depression though writing the word suggests otherwise. What’s missing is the impetus to finish any job that requires a real commitment of time, energy and focus. Maybe there's some what's the point in the situation. My week begins with a Sunday to-to list that stretches in into the low forties and has been topped by Create a new website, Complete the sheep book, Become a competent Spanish speaker, Pitch the sheep story to the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and Sell the Porsche for five years and counting. And now I’ve added learning to edit video and mastering blues guitar. All of those take concentration and discipline which are apparently in short supply. “Get a grip” you say. “Pick one and finish the son of a bitch.” Good advice I’m sure but how to I choose?

Basically, I won’t apply myself for the two, three or four hours at a sitting required to finish any of the jobs I’ve started. Writing this blog is the exception and it can take as much as a day to complete. Had I actually studied Spanish for two hours a day since studying in Guatemala in 2013 I would be an accomplished speaker by now but I don’t study the language at all except for writing a three paragraph story for my Friday Spanish group, itself a six year staple of my life without which my Spanish would have withered into nothingness. Studying Spanish doesn’t even make the list of forty most weeks. The same would be true of video editing, a newer interest. If I had systematically ploughed through my video editing course with its how-to CDs and sample videos, I’d have that complex process as wired as the Spanish.

Thankfully I’ve signed on to man the second camera on a video project helmed by my good friend Terry Thompson and will force me to man up. Terry, a former movie producer, won’t let me not do the job. Last week we did a short practice video of a two-camera conversation between the two of us.  While I watched he edited the first five minutes of the piece and it was remarkably good for a first effort. The clip looked half-way professional despite our rudimentary tools and my non-existent skills. We’ll do another test this week before shooting a real story which will involve three subjects and three locations including a car interior.

The only pursuit where I have a modicum of discipline is fitness where I work out as much as I ever have except for the triathlon years of the mid-80s.

In the runup to my 78th I had a revelation while driving to Albuquerque for a doctor’s appointment. I found myself thinking of myself as a writer first and a photographer second. That may be hubris but after 650 blog posts totaling at least 3,000 pages and a couple of years contributing my series Telling Stories to Shadow and Light Magazine, I have earned the right. 3,000 pages you say. That’s a lot of books. What you really mean is that if I’d invested that kind of time on a real book I’d have ten of them.

At the dawn of old age one asks, “What’s next?” aside from general pleasure seeking. Not to suggest seeking pleasure is a bad thing. In fact, I’m pondered making it what's left of my life’s work.

It’s well established that good food and wine make my world go ‘round. And the fact that I’m always hungry makes me an eager participant. As I’ve written in these pages, my memories a laced with dining experiences and food epiphanies. So, why not make the pursuit of culinary delights under the broader banner of travel be my be all and end all. Because it’s self-indulgent and frivolous and it accomplishes nothing. There is that.

Which leads me to ponder what to do for my 80th in 2021. Extravagance on that scale requires serious contemplation. Not to mention planning. Among the ideas for monumental self-congratulation are things so sweeping or expensive that I’ve haven’t done them yet. Now I’ll have an excuse. They’re experiences that I’ve dreamed of for decades. Live in a bustling neighborhood in foreign city for a full year through all its seasons, celebrations and attendant tribulations. Meander without an itinerary anywhere in world for all of 2021. Naturally, I’d keep a serious journal of my life on the road or in the 6th Arrondissement. The 6th is a place holder. I’d probably want to live where Spanish is the language of choice and that could be Latin America or Europe.

Third of the big three possibilities would be to sell the sweet 1980 Porsche 911SC with 74,000 miles and buy a Sprinter van and do the big mosey all over North America.

180 degrees from all of this self-indulgence would be a year in service. I’m the first to admit that I haven’t given back enough. That I haven't explored this option more fully is telling.

We’ve all heard the Shakespeare’s line, “What’s past as prologue.” So, looking back, even at failures or goals not met, may be instructive. Reviewing the odd success and understanding what experiences provided the most satisfaction might inform the next 78 years. Or at least one of them, the all-important 8 Oh.

I’m open to suggestions on how to waste my time in 2021. What would you do?

Saturday, November 30, 2019

In like a lion

The back Forty at twenty.

Here in Taos we’ve been hit by three snowstorms in as many weeks. And with the early onslaught has come mid-winter temperatures. Saturday we had a low of 5 and the high has been 30 for several days. That’s the price a guy pays for the glistening beauty and cinematic skies for which we’re famous. Better yet the Ski Valley opened on Thanksgiving to ten inches of fresh and I don’t have to write much. The images will tell the story. Or so I say.

Wagon, La Hacienda de Los Martinez, Taos, NM

Cattle in falling snow. Arroyo Hondo, NM.

Puffs of snow. La Morada de Valdez, Valdez,NM.

Here rests Bernardo Salazar, Valdez, NM
Yesterday we had a ground blizzard. That’s a term I’d never heard till Melissa, our favorite server at Taos Diner II, described the gusting snow Saturday morning. She said that she hails from South Park, Colorado where the phenomenon of gale force winds blowing fallen snow horizontally is called a ground blizzard. Earlier I had seen the wind blowing the snow on our pasture northward at daybreak. It was almost enough of an impediment to keep from my Huevos Rancheros. Green. Then again nothing keeps me away from food.

Frolic, El Prado, NM
To our north I-70 traffic was paralyzed all the way from Denver to the Kansas border and 125 miles south of us Albuquerque had record snow for November. From the Sierra and the Rockies, across the plains and up the coast to New England has been a video game of spinouts and 50 car pileups. Travel ground to a halt some places and thousands of flights were cancelled. We, happily, were basking in the warmth of friendship and an extraordinary Thanksgiving dinner. Thanks for the memorable evening to Jamie, Elizabeth and Bob.

Take heart Taoseños, it’ll be 46 by Tuesday. Maybe we’ll go to Palm Springs.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

El Rancho Grande

Elena, the manager of the Riata Motel in Marfa, told me that she was from Valentine, Texas. Her hometown lies 36 miles north on US 90, It's on life support, but it is the location of the fabled Prada Store art installation. No, it is not in Marfa as you have been led to believe. It's in an even more unlikely place. Valentine is as far from Milano as you can get without leaving earth. 

When I asked Elena about the changes she’d seen in Marfa. She said, “This was nothing but a ranch town when I was growing up. And now it’s a suburb of Austin.”

Marfa still a ranch town at its heart. It’s but a speck on the broad Chihuahuan Desert and all that surrounds it are ranches. The real economy of the Trans-Pecos is ranching and always will be. The Border Patrol must be second. Its green and white trucks riddle the landscape like Halliburton vehicles that dominate the roads in Wyoming. They are also green and white. Who modeled whom? That’s my question.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Marfa Live

Saint Paul's Episcopal Church, Marfa, Texas

The target of my four-night sojourn was the tiny art mecca of Marfa, Texas. Or maybe Marfa was an excuse for a road trip through the part of New Mexico called “Little Texas”, a sprawl of ranch and scrub that looks, feels, smells and votes like the Lone Star State. Along with ranching and the frontier mentality that comes with it is Big Oil. Southeastern New Mexico is exploding thanks to due to massive oil reserves in the Delaware Basin that runs six miles from Ral to Carlsbad. These riches have created boom town conditions that have driven real estate through the roof and created a housing shortage that has forced drilling companies to build workers camps with temporary housing made from shipping containers and with 24 hour security to keep out hookers and drug dealers. $100,000 a year jobs abound for low skill workers and so does simmering resentment for taxes that mitigate real estate taxes and pay for much of elementary and high school education throughout New Mexico. New Mexico is now the third largest oil and gas producer in the country after Texas and North Dakota. And by 2023 the Permian Basin in Texas and the Delaware Basin will combine to be the world’s third largest oil producer behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. It’s a very big deal.

The Palace Theatre and the Presidio County Courthouse

Just south of Carlsbad, the epicenter of Little Texas, I drove south through the Guadalupe Mountains, sped through the lamentable Van Horn, Texas and dodged the gauntlet of green and white Border Patrol trucks that line the road to Marfa. The Border Patrol is a huge presence on the highway and on hillsides that overlook migrant routes in ribbons of arroyos that point north into the United States. Hidden by a stand of Mesquites ten miles south of Van Horn were two young soldiers with semi-automatic weapons at the ready. It was a chilling moment. 

Then 37 miles past the famous Prado store in Valentine I was in Marfa and found the antidote for the heartburn I contracted in Little Texas.

The Saint George Hotel

The Hotel Paisano

To have a hipster enclave in the middle of no damn where Texas is quite improbable. There really is no there there and yet it seems to work. The town enjoyed a flicker of fame when the film Giant was filmed there in 1956. Its Hotel Paisano co-starred in the movie and was Marfa’s first claim to fame.

Donald Judd's concrete installation at the Chinati Foundation

In 1971 the Minimalist artist Donald Judd from New York City fell in love with the Chihuahuan desert and rented a house for the summer. When he needed more space to produce and display his large scale art he bought two aircraft hangers at the WWII era Marfa Army Airfield. Then he bought two ranches and in 1979 acquired Fort D.A. Russell which became the Chinati Foundation which exhibits the work of modernists Ingólfur Arnason, Don Flavin, Claus Oldenburg, Choose van Bruggen and IIya Kabakov along with Judd.

Marfa Books in the Hotel Saint George

Clearly, Judd’s Chinati Foundation was catnip for the wave of artists that have descended on Marfa. The Lannan Foundation has established a writers-in-residency program. There’s a theatre troop and the Marfa Ballroom shows art films and hosts live music. Marfa Myths is an annual music festival that has its roots in the stark landscape of Far West Texas. There are 19 galleries in the town of 2,000. And I do mean 2,000. There are no suburbs and the nearest towns of any consequence are 20 miles away.

On two warm October days Marfa felt a little like Southern California, a touch of Palm Springs and a whisper of Santa Barbara. The simplicity of the architecture and of the contemporary art scene was somehow freeing.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

But for the railroad

Abandoned gas station, Vaughn, NM.

When I finished with photographing lovely Encino, I continued on US 285 to neighboring Vaughn, NM. That’s 16 miles that follow the course of the BNSF Railroad. Unlike Encino, Vaughn is still breathing. There’s a gas station and convenience store, a Standard Oil bulk plant and a thriving burger joint, the Chuckwagon. Compared to withering Encino it’s the picture of life. It lies at the junction of the BNSF and the Union Pacific Lines and boasts a population of 400 isolated souls. It was 888 when the town was founded by the railroad in 1920.

The shuttered auto repair shop that adjoins the station.

The Standard Oil bulk plant in Vaughn. A bulk plant is a distributor of petroleum products.  

To my delight Vaughn has its share of derelict buildings. The discarded buildings aren’t old by New Mexico standards and seem mid-century modern with a southwestern bent. The architecture suggests that Vaughn’s heyday was the 1940s and 1950s.

Later, I back tracked on 285 past Encino where the BNSF railroad tracks cross the highway. I turned southwest toward Corona and on to Carrizozo, Tularosa and Alamogordo. In the postage stamp village of Corona alongside the railroad tracks is the shell of a handsome general mercantile store.

The old general mercantile store in Corona, NM

The connecting thread of these villages is the railroad. It’s no revelation to recognize that the iron horse really did build the American West and by extension America itself. When you drive just a few of the blue highways of New Mexico and West Texas as I have recently done the importance of the railroad is writ large. Even Marfa, the hipster haven, lives in the middle of no damn where, began as a water stop for the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Today the Sunset Limited passes through Marfa three times a week but doesn’t stop.

The railroad connects far flung communities that have few residents across great swaths of prairie. Marfa is two hours from El Paso, the nearest real city, and 20 miles from Alpine where there’s a an honest to God supermarket. Neither Encino or Vaughn has even a mom and pop grocery store. As far as I can tell you have to drive to Roswell 70 miles distant to find such a treasure. Talk about a food desert. And to think we besmirch rural Mississippi.