Sunday, April 05, 2020

Little dreams and big ones

In a post a month ago, the one called Now Look What I’ve Done, I wrote about submitting to calls for entry from The Harwood Museum of Art here in Taos and from The Albuquerque Museum. The Harwood’s call is for Contemporary Art/Taos 2020 and the Albuquerque show is called Art Thrive, formerly Miniatures and More.

I had modest expectations for getting into either show. Maybe Less than modest.

So, imagine my amazement when I received a congratulatory email last Monday morning saying that from 330 submissions, I was one of 30 artists who made the short list for the show.

The good news was followed by a request to sign up to host a virtual studio tour. This in lieu of a face to face right here at Casa Immel. I learned the tours would be held during most of April with the final decision being rendered on April 24. Tour slots would be on a first served for tour slots. And being the aggressive lad that I am, I opted for the first available tour date. That meant I got the very first slot Wednesday at 1:00pm. Somebody has to be first. And they might change their mind.

The show and tell was to be performed via Zoom, a virtual meeting platform that has erupted on the social distancing scene and that has received a torrent of press lately, almost none of it good. Privacy breaches have been abundant. The FBI is on the case.

Reservations notwithstanding I found myself sharing the screen with the new Curator of Exhibitions and Collections at the Harwood, Nicole Ashley Dial-Kay. I was a twitchy old man till Nicole told me how well received my photographs had been. Her encourgement and warmth quickly put me at ease and we were off the races.

First, we talked about the photographs I’d submitted. I spoke of my intent to offer work that was distinctly Contemporary. I suggested that the images were about shapes and the relationships between them. I said I was seeking simplicity. I had submitted them with a rounded white border to enhance the contemporary presentation. She asked why I had added the border and I responded, and I quote, “I thought it looked cool.” That’s not the apogee of artspeak but that was the reasoning. The question about the border could suggest that she thinks that the embellishment was superfluous. Hey, I’m not married to the border. It was part of the pitch.

ased on the call my understanding was that artists were to submit three works, one of which would be hung if accepted. Instead Nicole said that the overarching goal was to mount the strongest possible show and that she believed an exhibition with several works from fewer artists would accomplish that objective better than one piece per artist. In my follow-up email I agreed that strategy made sense even if it reduced my odds of getting in. And I added, I had submitted the images that I did because “I thought they hung together as a grouping.” More than one piece works very nicely.

As we wound down, Nicole asked if I had a specific project that would benefit from the collaboration and support of the museum. Open that door and I'm coming in. In a nanosecond, I had a print of Cuba and his Mauser España 1893 in front of the screen followed by one of Cuba’s “campo” on the Taos Plateau in late January. She proclaimed that they were “beautiful” and that led to a discussion of The Last Shepherd and its potential for a full-blown exhibition. We agreed it's a story that should be told. That it's the story of rural Hispanic life in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado, a life of the Land, Water, Family and Faith. There’s nothing I want more than to tell that that story.

Nicole, being local outreach oriented, asked if I thought Cuba would attend the show. I said that he's a rustic soul who speaks no English but that I knew that the Abeytas of Mogote, Colorado who own the sheep that Cuba herds would want to be part of it. I said I hoped they would that they would bring the 80 year old herder to the opening. He should be there.

In my thank you email I warned Nicole that she’d need a bigger museum because Andrew Abeyta, the patron of the outfit has five children and fifteen grandchildren. And that’s only one of Abeyta families.

Then I promised her that she’d be receiving a full blown proposal for a The Last Shepherd exhibition at the Harwood. I began writing it yesterday.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Furious Sky

This week has been about the Taos sky. Each image tries to capture the magic of brooding moisture laden clouds juxtaposed against bare trees and the occasional manmade element. A photographer friend, a member of my geezer club, has been lamenting the lack of sunshine and that he's not motivated to photograph at all under these conditions. Au contraire I replied.

"Jesus, Cris. The dreary sky is treasure as far as I'm concerned. Give me dank and cloudy every time."

The drizzly late winter, or is it early spring?, sky over the last couple of weeks has led to something that resembles a series. The infinite fodder for this kind of work, I proffered to Daryl Black, a close photographer friend, could keep a person occupied for a very long time. As in forever.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Les soeurs Meunier

Rene, Nany, Peggy, Josiane and Titoune at the Immel rancho with the Sangre de Cristos beyond.

Two weeks ago, we had visitors from France. Well, three who live in France and one who has lived in the States for nearly fifty years, Nicknamed Titoune, I’m pretty sure that’s slang for breasts like tit, tete and teton, Marie Meunier hails from Chamonix the adventure mecca in the French Alps and who came to our shores for the first time as a camp counsellor when she was 16. She lived in Tahoe and Taos, of all things, with her former partner and wound up in New England’s outdoor capitol, North Conway, New Hampshire. That’s where she lives but her heart remains in France. Or so it seems to me.

Titoune, Nany and Josiane

That may be because she comes from a family of twelve siblings, eight girls and four brothers. One brother has passed. With the visit I have now met at least four of the sisters. Titoune, of course, Josiane whose house in Baudinard sur Verdon we inhabited for a month in 2011. I know that because I turned 70 there. Then a few years ago Titoune and her sister Laure, also from Chamonix, stayed with us for a couple of nights. And this time Nany and her husband Rene from Provence joined Titoune and Josiane on a grand three-week tour of the Southwest that Titoune had planned for two years. She took the group on a sampling of our National Parks punctuated by visits with a long list of friends she’s made over nearly fifty years in outdoor adventure world.

Chimney Rocks at Ghost Ranch.

Rene and Josiane. She called it "Superb."

Nany scrambling for a shot of the valley of the Chama below.

It was in North Conway that Titoune started Wild Things, the high-end manufacturer of rock and ice climbing clothing and accessories with her former husband, John Bouchard. When they divorced, she operated the company on her own. We met her when Peggy was a climbing guide at International Mountain Climbing School. The climbing community is small and very interconnected. Friendships forged in that adrenalin drenched world have proven to be lasting ones. 

Today Wild Things concentrates on high tech clothing for the military. We learned that every part of the garment must be made in the USA, zippers, buttons, cloth. Literally everything. And while Titoune has phased out of the day to day operations of the company, she told us that she still does the occasional trade show and, in her words, “I can be as involved as I want to be."

John Bouchard was a specimen, a wild man with a perfect though atypical physique. Wild Things garments were cut for his ideal body. It was like designing a little black dress for Barbie. Whatever the perfect measurements are, John had them. The standing joke was the Wild Things a one-piece ice climbing suit would fit Bouchard but not an actual human being. Peggy and I each have one stowed in the garage. Let’s just say that mine tugs at the waist and bags at the chest.

Titoune remains unapologetically French despite half a century in the US. She is most proud of her roots in the Haut Savoie and of France in general. She tells an apocryphal creation story that goes something like this.

“When God made France, he made it indescribably beautiful. Then he created its unparalleled cuisine. He added the best wine in the world. The finest cheese. He created the lyrical French language. When he realized he’s bestowed France with such an embarrassment of riches he made up for it by creating the French people.” I paraphrase liberally.

Amazingly, Titoune lived in Taos from 1971-73 when she and her then partner operated an art supplies store on Kit Carson Road in the historic district. We didn’t know that till her March visit. When she searched for her old location, she discovered that the space is now a high-end contemporary art gallery, DAFA, or David Anthony Fine Art. DAFA is owned by our acquaintance David Mapes and is managed on weekends by our dear friend Thea Swengel. That’s yet another small world story to add to your journal. Alas, Titoune’s abode in nearby Talpa has turned to rubble. It’s the house where, upon returning from Tahoe on one occasion, she discovered a pack of hippy squatters. That she let them stay is a mystery to me. Though I guess that it shouldn’t baffle me since she’s famous for taking in strays.  

Titoune turned 70 in February. Nany is 76 and Josiane is 80 though you’d never guess it. Each sister is trim and can wear clothes like a 40-year-old. They were as lithe as cats on our hike to Chimney Rocks at Ghost Ranch.

During dinner at our house the first night Titoune told us that Josiane remembers seeing German soldiers in Chamonix and that despite their ominous presence she had her friends frolicked outdoors at the farm as toddlers will do. And speaking of Germans, in 2000 my friend Ian Cruickshank stayed at the Hotel Richmond in Chamonix during one of our annual ski safaris. We learned that the Richmond, the cheapest hotel in the town, had been Gestapo headquarters during the occupation. It was a chilling discovery, one made even colder by its granite walls and brooding lobby. One could hear the echo of glistening jack boots clacking on the tile floor. On one occasion Ian and I were drinking beer in the salon. A blustering troop of Brown Shirts entered the space and ordered us to get out.

Duly dispatched, Ian and I took the stairs to the basement and turned right to ski storage and found ourselves imagining the dank space as a dungeon or worse.

The next year we booked the modest but charming Hotel L'Arve, instead. In those pre-Euro days a ski package including round trip airfare on Swiss Air from Boston to Geneva by way of Zurich, transfers to and from Chamonix and a two star hotel with breakfast and dinner was $865. Those were the days my friends. Those were the days.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Real World

That was me lurking around in the alleys of Taos, New Mexico. I was the guy in the tan raincoat. As is I’m fond of streetscapes and especially of what’s happening behind the scenes where rooflines, wires, conduits and trash cans create intricate forms and patterns. I’m a wire man myself. Not that I shy away from the front side of the back side.

Streetscapes can be the real thing or as shown here can be a facsimile thereof like the small-town movie set on the Warner Brothers lot in Burbank. The rain and threatening made it seem even more real.

Sunday, March 08, 2020

No look what I've done

Last time I wrote about the struggle to choose images for juried exhibitions. It’s a pursuit that came to halt in 2012 when I calculated that it was a purely ego driven activity that took a lot of time, cost a lot of time and psychic energy and bore no fruit save the nominal satisfaction of being able to say I’m in a show in Brooklyn. And sales, well sales sure didn’t pay for the effort. I remember a time back in 2010 that was I was in three overlapping exhibitions during the summer. I do admit it was kind of cool.

Why? you may ask would you even there. Boredom? Desperation? Running out of time?

Nah, the shows are local. One is prestigious and one, the more local of the two, hasn’t had an open call since the last time I didn’t get in.

From the Harwood Museum of Art, the Taos museum that’s part of the University of New Mexico came the call Contemporary Art/Taos 2020 which invites artists living and working in Taos or those have moved away but have deep roots here. I delivered some paintings here in 1963. Does that mean I have deep roots even if I didn’t ever live here? Anyway, it said Contemporary so I chose three images that are both contemporaneous and may even be contemporary.

For the Albuquerque Museum call, formerly called Miniatures and More now called Art Thrive, I went modern, as well. Since Peggy has been in the show, I’ve attended opening night for the last several years and have watched show become more modern. To that end I’m visualizing a new no glass no frame presentation. But lest I get ahead of myself, here and up top are the four I submitted. 

The Albuquerque Museum will hang three images which needn't be from the ones I submitted but have to be in the spirit and style they represent. The Harwood will hang one of the three you see here.

Sunday, March 01, 2020

Alley Cat

I’ve had a thing about alleys and backsides of the historic facades and glitzy storefronts that we normally see. Oddly ignored, the grit and disarray of the rears of buildings are oddly beautiful to me. The gaggle of mechanicals, the twisted wires, junction boxes and meters all speak to the basic needs of life. Unadorned but for the graffiti that personalizes the scene.

And so here are several images of just that, all taken in recent days and every single one was made with an iphone.

As I contemplate which photographs to submit to the two shows I mentioned last week and as I review three years of work I’m reminded that for the second year in a row that among my favorites are ones from the always with me camera in my pocket.

Ton of mood in these suckers.

Sunday, February 23, 2020


Because I’m going to submit to a couple of museum shows I’ve searched the archives for images that are worthy, unique and contemporary. It’s my belief that the art world is moving toward to the modern, abstract and graphic. That assumption has prompted me to look for the work that skews modern. It has even prompted me, you heard it here first, to create new work for the shows. It is not without trepidation that I embark on this fraught journey.

When I look at the work that might fill the bill, two series come to the fore. They are Sketches of Winter and the Fog Series. They are my favorites and Sketches is arguably my most distinctive portfolio. But since one show requires photographs created in the last three years and other four years the work in Sketches or Fog doesn't qualify. So, I hit the road Tuesday to make some images in the spirit and style of Sketches of Winter. Fog, a relative rarity in these parts, was not an option. There was a paltry inch of fluff clinging to the tipis at Taos Drum and at historic Ranchos Church. The results are cousins to the originals but have more mid-tones and so are not as Zen as the ones made five to ten years ago.

Above are examples of the new snow images, trees, a forgotten place and something that, uh, different.

Put on your curator’s hat if you please. What’s a boy to do?

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Prime Desert Real Estate

Your slice of High Desert Heaven in Taos, the soul of the Southwest

As you know I have a kinship with the desiccated reaches of the American Southwest especially those places left behind by the settlers and seekers who tried to tame our vast and inhospitable deserts. Good luck with that. Their remains of their futile efforts are eminently photogenic in a spare and melancholy way.

The sweeping vista of same

The view from your soon to be front porch
From time to time I come across a For Sale sign on a particularly unpromising patch of real estate, the kind of place that makes you ask, “Who the hell would buy that piece of crap?” Who, quite naturally, is someone who can’t afford better or who like me is antisocial and has habits best enjoyed in private. In Greater Taos we have more than our share of such creatures in their hippy built homes or, more likely, a cluster of trailers of indeterminate age. Our mecca of tin is Tres Piedras some 30 miles to our northwest. Included here is one closer to home near the town dump and directly across from some prime real estate that can be yours for a song. It was the For Sale sign in the top image that compelled me to revisit the unlikely splotches of sand I’ve been drawn to for almost two decades. I've posted about these very places but the accompanying images are new.

A sad sprawl of parched Mojave near Keck's Corner, CA.

Replete with a bumper crop of Tumbleweed.

A 1940's Jackrabbit Homestead, 29 Palms, CA.

The Capitol of this real estate boom is the Mojave which in my view is the most barren and sun scorched of all your desert choices.              

Sunday, February 09, 2020

Trial Balloon

Lenny Foster was arguably Taos's first name in photography till he decamped to Saint Augustine. He and I traded portraits a few years back. Lenny is as photogenic as he is an extraordinary photographer and lovely human being. I took this in my garage studio with two softboxes.

You know that I’m not photographing when I resort to my vault of moldy oldies to come up with a post. Such is the case today. I’ve got nothing fresh so I’m resorting to my greatest hits, this time portraits. And to be fair I have an ulterior motive.

This image is of  JD, a self-proclaimed former street tough from Chicago who practiced martial arts and modeled at the Santa Fe Workshops. This was made with a single beauty dish.

I photographed painter Jan Norsetter with natural light at sundown on the beach in Keremma, France.

Recognizing that selling a so-called fine art photograph is as likely as seeing Haley’s Comet, I find myself contemplating the unimaginable, to pursue some kind of commercial undertaking. It’s not that I’m a total novice. On the odd occasion I’ve sacrificed my creative being for the almighty dollar but so far the debasement has been I dropped in my lap. I haven’t chased it. The one and only wedding come from a friend and collector. Way back I shot the interiors of luxury condos at the Taos Ski Valley. That came from a cycling buddy. I’ve done a little editorial work and that too happened when the writer of the article asked me to do the photos. Or more correctly I already had several thousand sheep herding photographs. We just had to choose the half dozen that fit the text. I’ve done exactly one paid portrait session which leads me to this.

Vared Pasternak asked me to make her portrait during our eight day painters retreat in Brittany. This is with natural light at sunset on the beach at Roc'h Ar Mor.

I photographed Mark Asmus in Peggy's studio with Profoto studio flash and two Chimera softboxes. Thanks to Mark I can call myself a professional portrait photographer.

If I were to enter the commercial arena it would almost certainly be studio and environmental portraiture. Over the years I’ve done a smattering of portraits, mostly of friends or other consenting parties. And given the paucity of fine art photography sales I find myself thinking about launching a portrait photography practice. What would I name the nascent business? Would I advertise? How might I use social media to put the endeavor out there? Do I have the energy to start something from scratch in my winter years? First, I’d need a Business Plan that would start with a Mission Statement which would express in a few lines the goal of the business and which would be fleshed out by the step by step plan for starting and building it. I am well-schooled in writing Business Plans having written them for several subsidiaries of Fortune 500 companies. All of that would be supported by a Budget which would detail how much it would cost to launch and support the business through the early lean times. Knowing me, I’ll choke over any significant investment and won't do it. But this is the closest I've come to pulling the trigger. Going through the planning process could lead me to a go or not go decision so it's worth the effort. The track record of my creative life is littered with unrealized goals so I worry this pipe dream will end up in the graveyard of good ideas. I offer The Last Shepherd (the long simmering sheep herding tome) as a towering example of not finishing the job. That has languished so long it’s become a laugh line.

Dado Lucena of Socorro, NM was attending an art opening at Wilder Nightingale Gallery in Taos. I shot this in front of the gallery with a small on-camera softbox.

More importantly, given my capitalist leanings, is what should I charge for a portrait session? Taos is notoriously cheap town, the kind of burg where being middle class means working three jobs. Generally, when I’m approached about any kind of gig, I immediately price myself out of the job. Whether that’s because I’m a greedy sot or want to be paid as much as a plumber I honestly don’t know. But I do envision a boutique operation charging more that a portrait booth at the penny arcade.

Anyway, I’ll make this short and sweet. Here are a bunch of portraits taken over the last couple of decades, ones that make me think it could work. Well, if I really want it to.

Are you in? Be the first on your block.

Sunday, February 02, 2020

Reach for the Sky

Aspens, Santa Barbara Canyon, NM.
I love trees. Each one is an intricate marvel and an affirmation of life itself. Whether as the focus of photograph or part of the natural world they tell us we’re part of something bigger. And that we need each other.

Valley Oak, Santa Monica Mountains, CA.
This post about trees stems from choosing a subject for my next article in the March-April issue of Shadow and Light Magazine. In my last post I offered a lightly edited version of Leap of Faith which was my January-February contribution to the magazine.  This time I’m writing a piece about trees that I hope will become Reach for the Sky for the next Shadow and Light.  Come to think of it, Tim Anderson, the editor and publisher of the magazine, asked me to contribute based on my blog posts. He invited me because he thought my posts are succinct and get to the point. I hope that’s true.

Fallow pistachio farm, Highway 46, Keck's Corner, CA.

Palms, Desert Shores, CA.
Trees have been on my mind. Handsome cottonwoods and Russian olives shade our backyard. A willow frames the view from the kitchen door. Every time I drive the canyon leading south through Embudo toward Santa Fe I’m entranced by the stately cottonwoods that line the Rio Grande as it courses south toward Texas and Mexico. Foaming and fast at County Line, it slows to a stroll in Velarde, sandbars appear in Española and it’s a trickle by the time it reaches Mesilla and kisses the Texas border.

Pecan orchard, Mesilla, NM.
The 2019 Pulitzer Price novel Overstory by Richard Powers has moved me to appreciate these ubiquitous organisms that seem to populate our every view. His book makes my appreciation of trees seem trivial. They are wondrous and essential, yet their fragility has never been more apparent. There’s no guarantee that they’ll provide their beauty and oxygen for future generations. Quite the opposite. Already millions of acres of trees have been lost to drought, fires, logging and infestation. The Brazilian rainforest has been reduced by 20% and deforestation grew by 84% in 2019 over 2018. The earth’s lung is operating at 80% of its capacity of 50 years ago. President Bolsonaro has concluded that farming is more important than breathable air. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, a big fan of fossil fuels, has made a corollary calculation that coal mining is more important than spewing the carbon dioxide into the air. And now Australia is readying to build the largest coal fired power plant in the world. Brazil and Australia are burning. We’re watching a preview of what’s ahead for our planet. Nero would be proud.

Pines in fog, Presidio of San Francisco, CA.
Powers first encountered the giant redwoods of California’s Coastal Range while teaching at Stanford and was duly impressed. But it was a hiking trip to the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee that launched him full tilt into Overstory. The Smokies, I learned from a television interview with the author, are the home to the last remaining old growth forest in the entire United States. So impressed was Powers that he decamped from Palo Alto to a hillside aery next to the Great Smoky National Park in Tennessee. I solo hiked in the Smokies back in 1978 and understand the appeal of the soft shouldered mountains and verdant glades. Though I remember even more vividly three sleepless nights jumping at every unidentifiable sound. Every noise was a black bear I was sure.

Bristlecone pine, Joshua Tree National Park, CA,
And like Powers, the first trees that made an impression on me were the redwoods at Muir Woods just over the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Shortly thereafter I camped among the giants at Camp Cazadero in Sonoma County. That was nearly 70 years ago and yet the memory was fresh when my son and I drove Highway 101 north to Fort Ross in 2017.

As told in the opening chapters of Overstory, the chestnut forest that populated the entire Appalachian chain is gone. A single survivor of the chestnut blight guarded the Hoel homestead in Iowa for generations. Mimi Ma, one of nine protagonists in the novel, sees that the small stand of trees outside her office window are scheduled to be cut down and before she can protest the city cuts down the trees in the dark of night. One by one, Mimi, Nick Hoel, Doug Pavlicek, a veteran who spent five years planting trees, and Olivia Vandergriff, who had a revelation about saving the them, join the fight to protect the remaining 3% of the redwoods. They are joined by Adam Appich, who is writing his thesis on environmentalists. These are the five essential characters who circles of life intersect in the fight to protect the redwoods from logging. They endure tragic consequences and their paths are changed forever.

Yes, I did say 3%.