Sunday, July 12, 2020

The top of the world at the end of the road


At the top of a dusty track in Lama, New Mexico is a cluster of ramshackle dwellings that mix abject poverty and sublime physical beauty. On a two-hour photo safari we drove north on NM Hwy 522 as if we were heading to Colorado. We live just 40 miles south of the Colorado state line. But on this occasion our destination was a wandering path through San Cristobal and to the end of a dirt road in Lama. It was not our first foray into these sparsely populated and very mixed communities. For every sprawling rancho there are ten double-wides and hippy-built shacks.  The contrast speaks to the vast disparity between the haves and have nots in the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico with 19.7% of its population below the poverty line ties Mississippi for that sad statistic. And Taos County leads New Mexico at 21%. These are not proud numbers.


Still the countryside where the high desert meets the mountains is undeniably spectacular and the reasons that northern New Mexico has been an artist's mecca for 120 years reveal themselves at every turn.


The hodgepodge of decaying adobe and stick built buildings give off a vibe that says you are not welcome. Some places exude danger. I feel it rarely but feel it every time we reach the back of beyond in Lama. But the setting on the sloping shoulder of the Sangre de Cristos brings us back again and again. There’s mystery to the spot, a heady menace in the vast nowhere.


The falling sun cast a glow on the buildings and bathed the hillside in gold. In these images the forest is flecked with light that seems like a dusting of snow. From our perch above Lama the walking rain spread across the Taos Plateau to our west.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

I'll always have 2010

Found Art , Rinconada, NM, March 29, 2005. Still Life as Subject, Photoplace Gallery, Middlebury, VT. The Arrangement, Vermont Photo Place, Essex Junction, VT.  It's Still Life, Rayko Gallery, San Francisco. Point of View, Edgecliff  Press. Single Image Issue, Black and White Magazine.
I peaked too soon. 2010 was the apex of my sleepy photographic career, if not qualitatively certainly quantitatively. Since I need to add past events to my new website, I've just reviewed my roster of shows over the years. The difference between 2010 and the years since is stark. 2010 is the year when my photographs were in galleries all over the country. That and $4.00 will buy you a latte. It was the year in which I lost $10,000 pursuing the glories of fine art photography, whatever fine art means. My businessman's sensibility was destroyed. So, in 2011 I trimmed my sails. I stopped advertising and entering juried exhibitions. Each show was several hundred dollars in submission fees, framing and shipping costs. It adds up. Not to mention I've had nary a sale from a juried show. The predictable result of reducing costs was that sales cratered. But at least I cut my losses to a couple of grand a year. $2,000, I figured, that was tolerable for what had become a hobby. I have yet to speak the word hobby in polite company, but I’m self-aware enough to recognize that reality.

Salt Marsh, Moody Beach, ME, September 27 2007. The Masters Cup, the International Award for Color Photography

Book of Solemnity, Ranchos de Taos, NM, March 18, 2005. The Humble Masterpiece. Taos Center for the Arts.
Lines of Defence, US 64, NM. March 19, 2008. Open Shutter Gallery, Durango, CO.
As I looked back at the plenitude of 2010 I found myself looking at critically the work I submitted that year, work that was shown in galleries and museums in Vermont (2), Texas (2), Colorado (2), Ohio, California (2) New Mexico (2), and London. During one period in 2010 my work was in five concurrent shows. There was so much action that I don't remember the images in some of the shows.

Bridge to Nowhere, San Francisco, August 8, 2009. National Juried Exhibition, Museum of the Southwest, Midland, TX.
Until this review If you’d asked me what have been my most successful images of my digital age that started in 2002 I’d have said Good Luck, Vanishing Point and Lines of Defence, the ‘c’ is intentional, I would have been very wrong. Based the on the ultra-active 2010 Found Art wins by a landslide. It tallied three shows and two books, something Good Luck, Vanishing Point and Lines of Defence never accomplished.

The review raised the musical question, how does your newer work stack up to the pearls of the past?

I'll get back to you on that.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

San José de Gracia

San José de Gracia, Las Trampas, NM

For two weeks I’ve done nothing but whine about my broken hip. But now something different.  Photographs. A week ago Saturday Peggy drug my aching butt to Santa Fe to trade a couple of paintings and to pick up BBQ from our beloved Whole Hog on Guadalupe Street. We ordered ahead and picked up $56 of smoky goodness which we figured was just enough for two hungry elders. It was our first take-out meal in three months if you don’t count a couple of supermarket chickens and a loaf of bread from Flour in Durango.

Mailboxes on SR 113A in Nambé, NM
We had already planned to return to Taos on the High Road through Chimayo, Truchas and Peñasco. It was my first outing since my infernal crash. We intended to photograph along the way. We took a side road in Nambé, one we’d never tried. We discovered a remarkably upscale neighborhood replete with ranchos on wooded acreage. A total surprise to both of us. There was a cluster of mailboxes and a stately church, Sagrado Corazon, at the top of the hill. All new to our eyes and all reaffirming that you need to take the random path to who knows where whenever you have the chance.

San José de Gracia

Detail of San José de Gracia with white cross against the diagonal shadow bottom center
The real jewel of our meander however and to some extent our goal was San José de Gracia, the Catholic mission church built in the village of Las Trampas (the traps) between 1761 and 1776. When Las Trampas was established by 12 Spanish families in 1751 northern New Mexico was not settled. Juan de Arguello who was 74 at the time led the founding families from Santa Fe to build a community in this unlikely location in the shadow of the Sangre de Cristo mountains for reasons that are lost in history. Remote villages like Trampas struggled with arid conditions, savage winters and the threat of raids by the Apache, Ute and Comanche. Yet by 1776 when San José was consecrated the community had grown to 63 families and a population of 279.

I have often proclaimed San José as a better example of Spanish Mission design and construction than the better-known San Francisco de Asis in Ranchos de Taos which was built between 1772 and 1816. And, for what it's worth, I find it more imposing and fortress like. In research for my July-August article in Shadow and Light Magazine I learned that the church is thought to be the most original and best-preserved example of Spanish Colonial church architecture in New Mexico. The operating theory is that it has stayed “original” because of its remote location at 8,000 feet on the High Road to Taos and because its traditional Hispano community has been little influenced by the outside world. Certainly, the sleepy village of Las Trampas feels like you’ve taken a time machine back to the mid-1800s. May it remain so.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Urgent Caring

Yesterday at the kitchen sink. Excuse the face in shadow.


It has been eleven days since the accident when I fell of my bicycle and broke my hip. I would not choose to suffer the injury but the support I have received has been extraordinary. It reminds me that most people are genuinely caring and want to help. That realization started in the Emergency Room of Holy Cross Hospital on Wednesday and Thursday, June 10 and 11.  And it was reinforced on Sunday, June 14 when I went to ER with a swollen lower leg and foot. Every doctor, nurse and technician I met at Holy Cross was empathetic and committed to diagnosing my condition and prescribing the best procedures for my recovery. I remember most every one of them by name, know a little about them and recall parts of our conversations. Everybody has a story and each one is worth telling.

Friday post X-ray in court appointed bloomers. 

Let me write that down. So, you said I have to use that stupid walker for 12 weeks.

At 3:00PM Wednesday I was greeted by Camille, a nurse from Virginia near Washington, D.C. Camille and her husband had been in Taos for only two months. I asked how she learned about the town and she told me she had done a three-month assignment here last year. In Latin it is called locum tenens. She liked it so much that she and her husband decided to move here. And since he is in financial industry he can work from home. She was glad to be here. I told her I was very glad she had chosen Taos.

X-rays were taken and came back negative for fractures in the hip, pelvis, femur, knee and elbow. I harbored hope that nothing was broken. Then Dr. Peter Neff, the orthopedist on call came by. He was young, hirsute and buff. His easy manner inspired confidence. He said that the while the X-rays didn’t show any fractures I was in such discomfort that they’d have to do a CT scan to be sure. Like the X-rays the scan was done right there in the room and it showed a fracture near the top of the femur called the greater trochanter. He described the break as unusual as if that would be a surprise. I wouldn't have an injury that wasn’t special. Because the fracture was not completely through the femur, that it was diffuse, it could be dealt with by six weeks without downward pressure on my right leg, in short a walker, and with physical therapy which should begin as soon as possible. I was disheartened by the six weeks but glad I didn’t need surgery. The efficacy of this non-intrusive course of action was to be confirmed by an X-ray and a follow-up appointment on Friday, June 19. I whined about my stupid decision to ride with osteoporosis after foregoing it for five years. What was I thinking? I described how the accident happened when my foot came out of my pedal and declared that was my last bike ride. Ever. Neff, an avid cyclist, told me “Don’t jump to conclusions so soon. Get platform pedals that don’t have a locking mechanism. They won’t be quite as fast but you won’t have your feet stuck on the pedals.”

I allowed that was probably valid but. “I can’t imagine any circumstance that would move me to ride again.” And I still can’t.

The night nurse, Falko, was from Germany. I asked what part and he told me he was from the East, 100 miles south of Berlin. He was extremely fit. I told him he looked like an athlete and asked what sports he participated in. He told me he had been a swimmer. He said he was also a martial artist. Behind a face mask judging his age was difficult. I found myself wondering if he was old enough to have been part if the East German sports machine, the drug fueled state system of winning at all costs. I’d like to know more about him.

“Do you always work the night shift?”  He answered, “Always. I prefer it.” Falko was sincerely concerned about my well-being and I was moved by his attention and kindness. I felt like I’d met a kindred spirit.

As dawn broke and I hadn’t slept, Cipry Jaramillo the hospitalist in on duty, visited my space. When I asked what the next steps would be and made it apparent that I counting on going home Dr. Jaramillo of Belen, NM cautioned that, “You shouldn’t count on getting out today. In fact, you’ll probably be staying another night and maybe have to go into a rehab facility.”

I was apoplectic. There was no way I was staying another night. There was zero chance of rehab stint at the Taos Living Center. That’s where people go to die as far as I’m concerned. I was rehearsing my refusal speech when Jaramillo told me, “It’s all up to physical therapy’s recommendation. They’re going to set you up with a walker and we’ll see how it goes. Personally, I think you should stay at least one more night.”

“When will I see a therapist?”

“By 9:30 I’d guess.

A few minutes later the therapist Spencer Bushnell appeared with a DRIVE walker, “the only one you may use” he stressed. He had me get off the bed, no mean task in my condition, and walk out to the hallway using the walker. I scuffed along in my johnny for maybe 30 feet passing Dr. Neff is the process. When I got back to my cell Spencer told me, “You’re good to go.” Lord, I was giddy. 

The next day when I scheduled my first PT I asked for Spencer or for Katherine Kulp who’d led me through the rotator cuff minefield in January and February. I told the scheduler that I’d like Spencer, Katherine or someone who was a hip specialist. Since Spencer was away the following week, I had my first PT session with Katherine on Wednesday. The first visit was largely diagnostic though she manipulated my right leg and gave me three exercises for my right quadricep, knee and ankle. Being a compliant patient, I have done them faithfully ever since. I am scheduled for two visits this week and hope that she’ll assign cardio and strengthening exercises soon. I’m anxious to maintain as much fitness as possible.

On Friday Dr. Marvel, real name, reviewed the new pics and proclaimed that everything looked good. I could continue with the therapy. The decision to mend without surgery was the right call. I finally bought in.

Then he dropped the bomb. I’d be using a walker for 12 weeks not six as I wanted to believe. 12 weeks wasn’t part of any conversation. I thought six weeks was the gold standard for good as new. Uh, no.

I’m will be batshit crazy by September.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Don't cry for me, Argentina

The man I used to be. National Triathlon Championships, Hilton Head, South Carolina, 1987.


Once in a while something happens that forces you to reassess your priorities, to analyze the things that make you tick and that really matter. That happened to me last Wednesday when I crashed my Trek Madone racing bike on West Rim Road near the Rio Grande Gorge.  I broke my hip. That’s significant enough but is made more so since my osteoporosis doctor warned me not to fall when he diagnosed the condition five years ago. I gave up skiing and bicycling the moment I got the news back in 2015. I reckoned that If you ski you will absolutely fall. And if you ride enough you will probably take tumble. But two weeks ago, the urge to mount my carbon fiber steed and ride fast through the high desert west of Taos was too great to ignore. My calculus was that I had crashed only twice in 35 years and many thousands of miles of riding. At that delusional moment, the risk seemed slight. After all crash one was caused by a broken front wheel during a triathlon in Lewiston, Maine. That was a fluke. And the other occurred when I had to lay my bike on the pavement when a driver cut me off. Neither resulted in an injury though I had to drop out of the race in Maine. Two weeks ago, I rode two times, the first was 20 miles on my favorite out and back route. The second was 24 miles on the same route toward Carson, a speck in the road with a post office and little else. God, I loved it. I was completely pumped. It was so much more rewarding than riding a stationary trainer or even running outdoors. Riding made me feel like the athlete I was 30 years ago.
  
Then disaster struck. My left foot came out of my Speedplay pedal. That’s never happened before. The pressure of my right foot on my right pedal sent me flying onto my right side and sliding across on the gravel littered asphalt. I found myself sprawled on the tarmac, in tremendous pain and unsure if I could get up at all. After a couple of minutes, I was able to get on my hands and knees and stand up. As I was standing up a car passing in the opposite direction made a U-turn and pulled in behind me. The couple in the vehicle approached me and asked if they could take me and bike somewhere. “Do you have somebody you can call?” the gray-haired gentleman asked. I said.” I can call my wife.”

“Where can we take you? We can take you into town.”

I said I was parked at the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge Visitors center a couple of miles away. “That’s I where always park to ride to Carson or Tres Piedras.”

Though it was almost impossible to walk I declined the couple’s offer to drive me home or to the hospital. I hoped I could move my right leg enough to accelerate and brake. When we got to the parking lot, I called Peggy and she said she’d come to get me immediately. I said I really wanted to drive home so I could shower before going to the emergency room. I hadn’t bathed before my ride thinking that I’d clean up after. And now I was bleeding like a stuck pig from my right elbow and knee. I was picking gravel out of the road rash on my right knee until Friday.

I was in the hospital for 24 hours. I'd never been in one overnight. We checked in at 2PM Wednesday. I was assigned a ER room around 3. Then at midnight I was moved to a hospital bay next to a guy recovering from shoulder surgery. He snored continuously and ta buzzer went off every seven seconds throughout the night. I yelled or cleared my throat every time the snoring became unbearable. I did not sleep.

The point of all of this is that I’ve spent 44 years with fitness as my number one commitment in life after family and career. It’s how I identify myself. The broken hip calls that commitment, some would say obsession, into question. Almost certainly I will never ride a bike again. Dr. Neff, the orthopedist and an avid cyclist who diagnosed my fracture, told me not to jump that conclusion yet and went so far as to recommend a platform pedal that would prevent me from being locked into my pedals. I’m am unconvinced. Now I’m too afraid to ride.

As to running Dr. Neff says he thinks I will be able to run once the fracture heals in six weeks or so. That’s important to me but not as much as I would have thought. The injury has made me review my priorities and to wonder how important exercising ten hours a week should be to someone staring at 79. I realize that part of this introspection is girding myself for the likelihood that my physical fitness life cannot be what it was. I’m preparing to be old. Somehow, I thought I’d be spared that indignity.

The last four days on my back, taking an array of pain pills and managing a walker have been the longest four days of my life. I tell myself that I’ll have all this time to write the great American novel. But I couldn’t care less. I have 41 days left in my sentence. How long is that? 10.25 times longer than the interminable last four days.

Yesterday Peggy noticed that my right foot and lower leg were swollen. She gave both extremities the feather tickle test and the sense of touch on my right foot and leg was 75% of my good leg. Our first thought was blood clot. It’s one of the things you look at when you’ve had a fracture. This was 10:00AM on a Sunday. I called Taos Orthopaedic as instructed if I had any problems. The answering service told me that the doctor on call was Dr. Franklin, but he was in surgery. She told me she would have Franklin call when he got out of surgery at around noon. At 1:00PM he called. I explained my symptoms. When he asked if I had a tingling sensation in my right leg I answered. “Yes. That’s how I’d describe it.” His tone changed. He said, “I don’t ordinarily advise this, but you should get an ultrasound. The only place in Taos where you can get one on a Sunday is Holy Cross Hospital. I’ll call ahead to request the procedure.”

By 2:00:PM we were at ER for the ultrasound only to learn they don’t do them on weekends. I argued that Dr. Franklin said they would. The registration human was unmoved but signed me in so I could to let me fight the ultrasound battle with the doctors and nurses. Nurse Camille took my vitals. I recognized her immediately. She was my nurse when I checked into ER Wednesday. I explained my symptoms to her and told her that if I couldn’t get the ultrasound right then Peggy would insist on driving me to Albuquerque or Denver if that is what it took to find out if I have blood clot.

Soon the hospitalist, Dr. Bouvier, came to the examination room. I retold my symptoms and made my pitch for the ultrasound here and now. She explained that the hospital doesn’t do them on weekends. Instead they administer a battery of blood pressure tests on both arms and ankles and to do a D-Dimer blood test that shows if there are elevated levels of fibrin degradation that would indicate the possibility of a blood clot. My BP numbers were all fine. But I had elevated fibrin degradation. I went from bliss to worry though Dr. Bouvier had cautioned me that elevated numbers don’t necessarily mean you have a blood clot. I’d need an ultrasound to know for sure. Uh yeah, I know that. When she came into the room, she said that she had been able to reach an ultrasound technician who was willing to come in on a Sunday to administer the procedure. I have no doubt that Dr. Bouvier went the extra step and made that happen. Knowing whether I had a blood or didn't would be a relief. Knowing matters and next steps can be taken in real time.

The ultrasound came back negative. No clots.

Wednesday I start physical therapy. What a guy can do when he can’t use one of his legs is a mystery to me. Some upper body work while sitting I’m sure. Maybe a recumbent style bike with enough cushioning to protect my aching ass. To quote the immortal James Hindman, “More will be revealed.”

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Is that a camera in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?



Today’s post is of photographs made over the last couple of weeks. I could have followed-up on last week’s dark prognostication of massive restaurant closings. I'm being inundated with obituaries of storied eating and drinking establishments that have closed for good thanks to COVID-19. One opened in 1945. The owners have used up their cash reserves and a half assed (50% of capacity is half isn't it?) opening as mandated would plunge them deeper into the tank. “No thanks.” They’re saying. “I’m not taking a second mortgage on my house to sustain the agony.” It’s not that a tempered reopening is wrong. It’s the right thing to do but isn't fiscally responsible for many operators. Still hope springs eternal and I'm guessing more than 75% of these optimists will roll the dice. Man, I hope it works.








I’ve been a casual photographer at best over the last three months. The unifying theme of work has been the sky or more specifically the clouds in the sky, something we have aplenty in the arid 7,000-foot desert of northern New Mexico. New Mexico skies could keep a guy engaged for another 78 years. Our epic skies and a little foreground interest are all I’ve got to show for my social isolation.


All of these, by the way, were shot with the iphone in my front pocket and processed with Snapseed. Don't judge me for being expedient. Or is it lazy?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Say good night, Gracie.



Charlie and Holly's 39 year old place in Cambridge.

About sixty percent of job losses during this pandemic have been in the food service industry which we think of as restaurants and bars but also includes corporate and institutional operations. All have been decimated by the virus. The magnitude of the losses and the economic toll for owners, operators, employees and suppliers cannot be overstated. Some observers of the debacle estimate that at least 25% of closed restaurants will not be able to reopen. Others say 50%. Either is a monumental number, one so large it seems unreal. It's like saying 102,000 people in the United States have died from COVID-19. That’s a just a number but if the toll were seen as a single cherished life lost 102,000 times it would be unbearable. Is unbearable.


More of the same.

On May 21 I read an article in the Boston Globe. The title was “Here are the Boston area restaurants that have permanently closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.” It listed seven well-regarded establishments that had been unable to weather their closures. The subheading of the article continued, “Cuchi Cuchi, Stella, and The Automatic are just a few of the restaurants that made the difficult decision to shutter for good.” In the text Coda, Restaurant Danté, Artú and Marano Gelato were also memorialized. Artú was 25 years old. Coda 13 years. Cuchi Cuchi 19 years. Danté 15 years. Stella 15 years. A relative newcomer The Automatic was opened in 2006 by Dave Cagle and iconic Cambridge chef and entrepreneur Chris Schlesinger. Chris is one of my food heroes. His East Coast Grill that opened in Cambridge’s Inman Square in 1985 and closed in 2016 may be my favorite restaurant of all time.

My sense is that we think that our favorite restaurants, cafés and watering holes will magically reappear, good as new. I don’t want to burst bubbles, but that isn’t happening and even if it does the new rules of engagement will make the already fraught business proposition of operating a restaurant impossible or close to it. The precarious nature of the restaurant business has been overstated. An efficient high-volume restaurant can print money. But most restaurants are neither high volume nor are they particularly well run. Their margin for error is thin and they haven’t socked money away for desperate times like these.

And, frankly, the idea that a restaurant can operated at 50% of capacity, the realistic effect of social distancing, is laughable. A full-service restaurant paying market rent in an urban setting, needs about 80 seats to break even. So, take that 80-seater and allow it 40 seats and you have a prescription for failure. The fixed costs and labor will eat it alive. Game, set, match.

The basement joint we owned for thirteen years. Still kicking after 31 years we hope.

The bar the neon margarita built. And the first place to serve Corona beer in New England.

Which leads us back to the May 21 article. The first thing I thought of when I read the piece was, “What are Charlie and Holly are doing with their restaurants and clubs in Cambridge?” The second was, “I wonder if Zuma Tex-Mex Grill, our old restaurant in Boston, will re-open?” I immediately fired off an email with the Globe article to my dear friend Charlie saying, “Don’t know if you saw this. I hope you’re hanging tough.” Then I did a search on Zuma and found that it has changed its name to Mezcala Tex-Mex but has been closed since March 19 due to the virus. Fingers crossed for Cody, Steve and the crew. 

In response to my email Charlie answered with this. Our messages have been edited for clarity, brevity and to protect the innocent.

Stevie!

I hope you, Peggy, and everybody you care about are well and able to stay safe.
Holly and I have been hunkered down at home since March 16, after we furloughed 100+ employees (some of whom have been with us for close to 40 years). Rather heart breaking to not be able to help our other “family”.

So, we are hanging tough, but by our fingernails. We might just have to hang it up. (See what I did there?) As you can tell, we are whiny and wallowing in self- pity, but thankful that we are healthy and have a home to be hanging out in.

Hope to chat sometime soonish.

Love and big virtual hugs, C


To which I replied:

Charlie or as Holly says Chuckles,

Yes, we are safe, healthy and not stir crazy. Yet. Other than not eating out very other meal it's been better than fine. Mostly we miss wood-fired pizza and a frosty pint of Take a Knee IPA at the Taos Tap Room.

I'm sad to hear that you had to furlough all those folks. It had to be wrenching for the most caring employers on the planet. It would be the wrong ending for your story to end this way, that you aren’t able to continue what you've built over 40 years and that you both love so much. Hanging tough, hanging by your fingernails or hanging ten don't be hang dog.  Make the puns stop! I know you'll prevail.  You always do. 

Always up for a chat.

I better hang up. See what I did?

Love back atcha,

Steve


As to the so-called stimulus payments to small businesses, the ones intended to keep workers employed, they don’t really work for tipped employees and do little to keep establishments afloat when there’s no income. It’s the fixed costs that bury a restaurant especially one operating in a high rent urban setting. Imagine a $4,000,000 a year NYC restaurant and bar where the rent, common area maintenance fees, utilities and insurance are 12% of last year’s sales. And there have been exactly no sales for three months. So, you’ve got a $40,000 a month nut and no dollars to cover it. How many months can you survive? And even if you do, you’ll have to operate at half capacity for the foreseeable future. “It’s homely,” as Charlie describes dire situations.

Then, of course, is the question of how we’re going to respond to these partial re-openings. Will we be drunken lemmings cheek by bikini by the pool in Lake of the Ozarks on Memorial Day weekend or like us, be afraid to get back on the horse? We haven’t eaten out or been in a social setting in ten weeks. We haven’t even ordered take out and don’t plan to. And we are richer for it. Thousands of dollars richer.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Road to Hondo


That's a title for a western if I've ever heard one.



We headed north to catch the last rays of the sun on the great plateau that stretches from the junction of US 64 and NM 150 to the village of Arroyo Hondo. With Peggy at the wheel literally and figuratively she’d get fodder for paintings and I’d photograph whatever came my way. When we do a pre-dinner tour the Hondo-Seco loop is always an option. On this occasion we passed the junction known as the OBL or Old Blinking Light so named for a blinking traffic light that pre-dates our arrival in Taos. If we had turned right on NM 150, Ski Valley Road, we'd have begun the counter clockwise Hondo-Seco loop.


When we'd driven a mile or so north on NM 522 two subjects came to mind. Five miles north of the OBL is an industrial strength corral on Taos Pueblo land. I told Peggy that the corral had possibilities and that we should to keep an eye out for it. Before we got to the corral, I saw a fence that I mistook for the corral. Then another. My bumper sticker says, "This vehicle stops for fences." We stopped for two before we reached the corral. It's a good thing too since the glow of the sunset falling behind Tres Piedras illuminated the fences, the sage and prairie grass. It cast long shadows on the parched earth. The reflective stock tank beyond the corral proved more worthy than the corral itself and the shadows of the fence as they crossed the rutted path were brooding and dramatic. It and made for a quintessentially northern New Mexico scene.


At the junction of Hondo-Seco Road was a richly tagged old gas station that I'd passed a hundred times. The western light was perfect.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

La Morada



As I’ve gotten my photo legs back, I’ve veered to landscapes with a man made or architectural element. The fact is that I’ve always preferred that. In Taos and environs we have a myriad of magical and historic buildings to photograph. Most are of the Spanish Colonial persuasion which is fitting since Taos sits at the terminus of the El Camino Real (The Royal Road) that brought the Conquistadors from Mexico 450 years ago. Some say the Royal Road stopped Twenty miles north of Santa Fe on what is now the Okeh Owingeh Pueblo near Española. One thing is for sure. The Spanish Colonial building boom happened around 1800. That’s evidenced by Saint Francis Church in Ranchos 1772-1816. The Martinez Hacienda completed in 1804 and today’s subject La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. It was was built between 1798 and 1834.


La Morada is near downtown Taos and abuts Taos Pueblo. It’s sweeping view of the Sangre de Cristos makes it one of the most important yet under-recognized sites in all of Northern New Mexico. It's where I want my Grand Hacienda. I know that.


But that dream is not to be. Taos Pueblo granted the land to the Hermanos Penitentes in 1798. From its completion in 1834 the Taos Morada was the center for the Penitentes’ harsh religious devotions. The brothers were penitents whose practices included self-flagellation and entirely too realistic processions of Jesus and the Cross.


By the 1970s there were few penitentes remaining but those who continue in 2020 are a zealous bunch who are rabidly protective of the Morada. They grudgingly tolerate visitors who are “respectfully” requested not to photograph, paint or video the stunning chapel and grounds. This despite a written 2005 agreement between the Catholic Church and the Taos Historic Museums that gives the public unrestricted use of the grounds.


There is a sign at the entrance gate with the request not to depict the morada in any way. Visitors have been known to be challenged by the brothers. One is stuck between respecting their desire to protect the place they see as theirs and your knowledge that it isn’t. It wraps a cloak of worry, even fear, around what should be unfettered appreciation of this extraordinary place.

Pueblo style architecture has appealed to me since I first saw in an Ansel Adams photograph of Ranchos Church in the forties.It was emblazoned on my brain when I saw it in person during the summer of 1958. Though not everybody is a fan as I discovered when I showed my portfolio to a gallery owner in Durango, Colorado a dozen years ago. She told me that she'd gag if she saw another adobe building. Happily I had two shows in the gallery in the ensuing years. 

But the soft shouldered structures covered with a hand applied porridge of mud and straw exudes an organic sensibility that never fails to entrance.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Small camera reflex syndrome



I left the house three times over the last week to take pictures. It’s nothing to be proud of but I’ve been asleep at the switch for almost two months. When I began processing the images from those adventures, I discovered I hadn’t made a photograph with either of my main cameras in seven weeks. It might be the longest I’ve gone without using a real camera in thirty years. Maybe much more. Part of the reason, you are tired of hearing, was the long-fused effort to build a new website. But the other, and more valid excuse, is that I’ve come to rely on the iphone in my front pocket. Or in my left hand when I’m running. It’s unobtrusive, expedient, and competent. I am but one of those.




Taking a real camera in your hand does change the dynamics of picture making. It's heavier and more complex than a smart phone much the way that a 4x5 was a slow anvil compared to a full frame DSLR. But you give up contemplation and craft when you rush things, naysayers sniff. You don’t take the time to wait for the magic moment, the ideal light and the perfect composition. Sez you.



Having dispensed with the bulk and snail’s pace of large format not to mention the vaporous darkroom 18 years ago I happily embraced the ease and speed of DSLRs and now I embrace the remarkable iphone. Call me a hussy but I like my action easy, fast and indiscriminate. And there are processing tricks on a smart phone that I can’t perform in Photoshop. I have one word for you citizen, Snapseed.

From the fabled adobe portfolio are this gaggle of images from my heavyweight Canon 5D Mk III and my ever ready iphone 7. They are of historic San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos and the equally important Martinez Hacienda half a mile down the road from us.

Pretty hard to tell what image came from which device.

Monday, May 04, 2020

Lessons Learned

Corrugated roof  in Los Ojos, New Mexico.
This follows up on yesterday's post that included the first ever video in my blog. The first lesson is that you can, indeed, use video in a blog. That wasn't evident till my friend Terry Thompson emailed that tidbit this morning. Lesson two is that you have to click on the title of the post, in yesterday's case Moving Target, to be transported to the the blog itself. That's where you can view the video at the bottom of the page. This is a test run. Nothing more. It's too short. It moves too slowly across the canopy of trees, but it shows that I can produce a video clip in the style of my black and white stills. That was quite a discovery. Gotta find the sweet spot that tells story before it bores your bag off. The one Monday was seven seconds.That wasn't enough.

Did you know that videos garner 1200% more shares than still images? 

When there is a video in a post I'll include message that says something like, "Click on the title to visit the blog and watch the video."

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Moving Target




Here’s an epilogue to the I didn’t get into the Contemporary Taos 2020 show at the Harwood Museum saga. Thanks to all of you who held my hand through the trauma. After steaming about it from Thursday April 23 to Monday April 27 I had aggregated a set of questions and concerns about the selection process. It turns out that the museum chose 24 of the 30 finalists to be included in the actual museum exhibition and the remaining six finalists plus the ten artists on the Wait List would be “recommended” for a satellite show to run concurrently at a gallery to be chosen. I learned this from an email response to my query to Nicole Ashley Dial-Kay, the museum’s new Curator of Exhibitions and Collections. While Peggy suggested that I stop whining in public about slights both real and imagined, coming that close to being in the museum show felt worse than simply not getting in. They took 80% of the finalists after all. If they’d taken the top ten or fifteen, I’d say tough cookies. That’s the way it crumbles. That they accepted most of the finalists was the unkindest cut of all. On the just barely brighter side I might be accepted for the secondary show. Like kissing your sister perhaps. Half full or half empty? The hell if I know.


I sent a follow up email to Nicole that fished for some perspective on how and why I came up short. I proffered the hypothesis that, one, the fall-off between the 24 selected and the six also-rans must have been significant or the fact that the images I submitted were shot with the phone in my front pocket might have been a deal killer. I told her that I felt a hitch in her enthusiasm when I admitted my dastardly deed. Then again it could have been a lousy virtual tour or lackluster credentials. There’s no MFA in my timeline after all. I did not hear back. I'd prefer to believe the work that was selected was just better. One way or other I'm anxious to see the show and to see if I agree.


And speaking, as we are, of iphoneography, the images in this post are from the diminutive device in my pocket. I’m really excited about the prospects of adding video from that very appliance to my social network presence. My enthusiasm comes from my general appreciation of the importance of video across all platforms, Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, the lot. People prefer to look at video. Then a recent webinar underscored the potential of adding video to my repertoire. The interconnectivity among all the platforms can help build a larger reach, something I’ve struggled to do. My audience is small but elite.


In the last few days, I’ve included a couple of short videos on Facebook and Instagram and shared them with the other. I posted one on Instagram as part of My Story and the other on Facebook as a regular post. I'm feeling my way. I can’t tell which one is more effective this early in the game but I'm leaning toward posting my videos on Instagram the way I do stills. Then I'll share them with Facebook. Time will prove the efficacy of that approach. My handle on Instagram is steveimmel and on Facebook I’m Steve Immel. My April 30 post on Facebook is a short video of the canopy of trees that shade Burch Street in downtown Taos. It looks like it came from the same human who shot the stills shown here. The potential of this has my juices flowing. 



That's a screen shot from the 8 second video. Sooner or later I'll figure out how insert a video that you can play into the blog. The internet tells me it's possible. I scoff.



Sunday, April 26, 2020

No Cigar

Lost Hills California

As you are too aware. I have been sidelined for three weeks of horror and frustration while building my new website and making it function fully. There’s been precious little time for making photographs or creative writing of any kind. This is as creative as it’s going to get.

Wasco, California
Then as my website making ordeal reached its apex of failure Thursday evening, I had lost all my email for a year and I was ready to jump off the proverbial bridge, I got the news that had not been selected for the Harwood Museum of Art’s upcoming Contemporary Art Taos/2020 exhibition. I wouldn’t say I was counting on it except that I was counting on it. 

Old Dale, California
Friday morning at 7AM I didn’t have the errant email and hadn’t received any new mail since 4PM Thursday. I was, shall we say, miffed. Then at 11AM the year of old emails had populated the Inbox on my computer, my iphone and my ipad. I was getting my new mail and something was right with the world.
 
Imperial Dunes, California
An unintended bi-product of populating the new site was the discovery of some older photographs that I wouldn’t have identified if I hadn’t taken a look back. Some are included here. Recent stuff certainly wasn’t an option. You may pick up on the forlorn theme.That they're all from the Mojave Desert and the Imperial Valley is pure chance.

That’s all I've got.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Truncated in Taos



Here’s a truncated version of yesterday’s post. It dawned on me that my instructions on how to view my handy dandy new website were convoluted at best and impossible at worst. And inducing you to look at my pride and joy was my mission for the post in the first second and third place.

To get to the link you would have had to click on the headline get to the actual blog, page down midway and click on the Steve Immel Photography link to the right on the photograph, Book of Solemnity. My mother wouldn’t do that for me.

So, click on www.steveimmelphotography.com and you can view the new site. I hope you’ll take a look.