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 EspaƱola 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%.