Sunday, December 27, 2020

Nuestra Morada Privada


Cruz Blanca

Early in December I headed out for a browse of favorite photo locales around Taos. As is often the case I headed to La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, locally referred to as the Morada. Near the Taos Historic District, the Morada, a Catholic lay chapel, sits on a glorious patch of high desert with sweeping views across Taos Pueblo lands toward the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. It’s a special piece of land and the Morada, while underknown and appreciated, is one of Taos’s most important and aesthetic historic sites.

Cruz Negro

La Morada with Taos Pueblo and the Sangre de Cristos beyond

La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

To my modest surprise, as I approached the Morada grounds I found that a gate had been installed across Penitente Road so that public access to the property is no longer possible. I say modest surprise since there’s been a fraught relationship between the Penitente Brothers who use the Morada for their severe devotionals and anyone who is not a Hermano. That tension has existed forever. Since the property was sold to the Diocese of Santa Fe by the Taos Historic Museums in 2008, visitors have sometimes been accosted by Hermanos when they attempt to enter the grounds. And more recently a sign appeared saying that painting and photography are expressly forbidden. But the right of the Penitentes or the Catholic Church to deny access to the Morada grounds has been called into question. It is believed but not yet proved that under the terms of the sale of the Morada to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe by the Taos Historic Museums public access was preserved and that access includes the right to depict it artistically. 

Much to my frustration I backed out the entire length of one lane Penitente Road and put it aside for the moment. Days later I received an email from a fellow photographer who had suffered the same fate. Rupert Chambers, who does not turn the other cheek, had tracked down the parish priest under whose purview the Morada lies. When questioned by Rupert about the closing here’s how the priest replied.

Mr. Chambers,

My secretary forwarded me your email, thank you for your question. The short answer is though a historic site, it is a living morada, and the men of our local fraternity practice their devotions and care for the grounds/building. Though the choice remains with me, I chose to honor their wishes that the grounds remain private for their use and for official parish use only. Furthermore, the pueblo tribal government has asked that we keep visitors out since our land borders theirs as they are worried about issues with trespassing. So, in the end I am respecting the wishes of our special group and of our neighbors. You should know, however that visitors are allowed when we have public worship events there such as Mass (once a month during normal time) and for certain devotions during the Lenten season.

I do hope you and your loves one enjoy a warm, safe, and joyful Holiday Season!


Prompted by the Father’s answer, I weighed in.


Dear Father, 

The interchange between you and Rupert Chambers was shared with my wife Peggy who in turn shared it with me. I am disheartened that in your narrow view the desires of the Penitente Brotherhood exceed the value of the general public’s freedom to visit one of Taos’s extraordinary historic sites. It’s shortsighted at best. Further, it is my understanding that a stipulation of the sale of the property by the Taos Historic Museums to the Archdiocese of Santa Fe in 2008 was that public access to the grounds be guaranteed and that access was to include the right to paint, photograph or otherwise depict the Morada and its grounds. If that is not the case the Historic Museums dropped the ball in an inexcusable way. If that stipulation is part of the agreement the Archdiocese is bound by it. In your response to Mr. Chambers, you declare with not a little pride that the decision was entirely yours. In your presumed wisdom you are denying access to the property to the devout who are not Penitentes and to those who simply appreciate New Mexico’s rich Catholic history. You are making that history smaller, less approachable and for the very few.

It is no secret that the insular, and may I say bitter, Penitentes do not want to share the Morada with anyone who is not a Hermano. Even more they are revulsed at having it painted, photographed, or otherwise depicted. Surely you are aware that artistic works memorialize sacred sites for all time. How is the Church served by denying that legacy?

I harbor no illusions that you will be swayed to reconsider. But I hope you will ponder what you have wrought.

Steve Immel


Sounds good! I have no qualms that your argument has weight and is meaningful, but as pastor here it’s both my call and it isn’t, because I do not represent merely my interests and I am also well aware of this.

In a different context I might just say do as you wish, but the Hermanos and the Pueblo have been here a lot longer than both of us and both have been wronged and often overlooked. With the abundance of gorgeous vistas in our fair valley I am sure you can find many a spot that suits your needs as an artist and in capturing visual history. 

I mean no harm and I didn’t intend my previous email to presume wisdom or anything of the kind, I am just telling you where I stand, and I would prefer we would respectfully disagree than any sense of injustice or disrespect being fostered.

I certainly hope you and your loved ones enjoy a warm, safe, and consoling celebration of the holidays. Lord knows this year has been hard enough on all of us.

Paz, Father 



Thank you for your thoughtful response. As you say, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

In my view you have chosen to serve the few rather than the many. There is no doubt that the Pueblo and the Penitentes have each been “wronged” and “overlooked.” The list is long. As you know the Penitente Brotherhood stemmed in part from the inability or disinterest of the Catholic Church in providing spiritual guidance, namely priests, to the lowest caste of New Mexico Hispanic society, mostly mestizo. After 1821 the problem became more acute when Spain withdrew its priests. In lieu of real Catholic clergy devout campesanos built their own lay chapels and practiced their own fundamentalist brand of Catholicism. Taos Pueblo provided land for La Morada de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe in 1798 if memory serves.

Because I referenced access to the Morada grounds for artistic pursuits you have you have singled out that use. That trivializes my argument for access. This is not about “gorgeous vistas” or spots to fill our needs as artists. Those are of modest importance. It does, however, have a lot to do with freedom, choice, and inclusion. I am addressing the inequity of denying access to anyone who is not a Penitente.

The Morada is a special place, even a spiritual one. Being there is a gift unto itself. It’s a shame that no one else will discover it.

And finally, is there or is there not a provision for public access within the agreement that conveyed ownership of the Morada from the Taos Historic Museums to the Archdiocese in 2008?

I suggest that The Church or the Brotherhood install proper signs at the bottom of Las Cruces Road and Penitente Road indicating the Morada grounds are no longer open to the public. That way folks are spared the difficulty of backing out the entire length of Penitente. A press release announcing the closure would seem appropriate, as well. This should be public knowledge.




Steve, I am sorry, I have no answers for you as I am in the midst of Christmas preparation, a sacred and busy time for us Christians.

I know that registered with the country, morada property belongs to our parish corporation. Thus it is private property under my name currently and I have seen no clause of the sort you mention.

Certainly, our diocesan chancellor could answer your questions as he has all of the paperwork for our parish. His name is Tom Macken and you can reach him at (505)831-8100. Also, I believe some documents are also public information and you can contact the county clerk for that.

If you still want to discuss this with me personally, I would be happy to meet with you, please just make an appointment after the new year with my secretary, Anita. 

Again, I appreciate your concern and I am not opposed to discussion at all, but I can’t do it right now.

I hope this special season brings you and your loved ones hope, joy, and consolation.

In His joy, Father

Thank you once again for your openness, Father.  That there is a contractual obligation to allow public access to the Morada grounds is what I’ve been told by individuals who should know. The last two presidents of the Historic Museums, Sarah Turner and Margo Gins, contend that access is part of the deal. I don’t know the opinion of Daniel Barela the current president. Legal obligations, of course, can be different than what is right and fair and serves the common good.

Let’s table this discussion till after the busy Christmas season and the New Year. In the meantime, I wish you a blessed Christmas and a better New Year.




This is a quandary for the Father or at least I hope it is. But it feels more like a verdict rendered when only the complainant was represented before the court. And what if unfettered access to the Morada Grounds is guaranteed? Who would challenge the Father’s and by extension the Catholic Church’s decision? And when made public what judgment will the Court of Public Opinion render?

I understand that this more than a legal issue. Public access may or may not have been guaranteed. I’m hellbent, excuse the term, on finding that out whatever resolution is reached. The Father’s desire to the right wrongs comes from a good place no doubt. The Morada at some point was owned or at least controlled by the Penitente Brotherhood. They built it after all. But at some time in history, they lost legal possession of their prized property. Does that mean that this particular wrong should be righted? What about other losses at the hand of the conquerors? Is it possible to right all the wrongs perpetrated by Hispanos and the Catholic Church on Native Americans or by Anglos on Hispanos? The answer of course is no. Though it may be worthy.

I am less sympathetic to the Pueblo which wants the public denied access because someone might trespass on Pueblo lands adjacent to the Morada. Is the “possibility” of a misdeed or the rare occasion of that incursion a fair rationale for denying access to everybody else to a property you no longer own? I suggest No. Clearly, Hispano and Native American interests hold great sway in Northern New Mexico. And that’s as it should be to a point. But one suspects the Father’s deliberation in this case was made without an opposing voice.

More will be revealed.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Men in Hat, Part Six - Put a lid on it

Some hats have stories. The one below goes back to 1977. I was at the KFC National Convention in New Orleans. After my co-workers and I took home most of the hardware in the year’s Top Ten Awards, we crawled the length of Bourbon Street. Our last stop was the Old Absinthe House. It was 4am. There were only four survivors by that point. They included Peggy and me, Bob Buxton my District Manager in New York City, and the sales manager of our cole slaw supplier whose name escapes me. I do remember the name of the company though, Delicious Salad Company or Delsaco. While we drank, a couple of cowboys from East Texas bellied up to the bar. The tall lean one wore a magnificent cowboy hat. I said as much to Bob. I may actually have said, “I really want that hat.” Because, well, I really did want the hat. At some point Bob followed the cowboy into the men’s room and tried to buy it. It seemed like a risky proposition to me. He returned to our table empty handed but unscathed. Fortunately, he did get the brand, style, and color of the lid as I would discover six months later.

I was in my office in Greenwich, CT one afternoon when a rather large but light parcel was delivered. When I opened the box, I found the hat or at least a carbon copy of same. I’ve treasured it since. I shaped the hat myself the way I was taught at Porter’s Western Wear in Tucson in 1951 when I was ten. That entails steaming the crown and brim over a boiling tea kettle and forming it to taste.

I never saw Troy Brown without this hat. Troy, a retired architect from Houston who specialized in designing schools on the Navajo Reservation, retired to Taos and became a watercolor painter. We met on the Canyon de Chelly painting trip I mentioned last week. On the last night of the workshop Troy and I shared a hotel room. We’d been camping in the canyon the previous five nights. What I remember most about Troy is that he snored like a locomotive. After trying everything I could think of to make him stop I got up at midnight, packed my gear and drove home to Taos in time for Huevos Rancheros at Michael’s Kitchen. Troy and I were the same age and he was married to Peggy, his high school sweetheart. He passed four years ago.

My Peggy, my college sweetheart, was on a rock-climbing trip to South Dakota a decade ago. She was climbing in The Needles with Peter Lev and George Hurley who were the first Men in Hats five weeks ago. Also in the climbing group was Bozeman, MT climber HJ Schmidt. In fact, these portraits of HJ were taken during the same cocktail party where I photographed Peter.

HJ was an ebullient character and a great teller of stories. He was also a camera magnet. During drinks he coursed thought an array of moods.

When I Googled him for more background I found that he describes himself an Artist, Photographer and Writer and that he's a professor of photography at Montana State University in Bozeman, his home town. I'm a big fan of Bozeman with its lively downtown, college and adventure sports. I'm also keenly aware that housing prices have skyrocketed as Hollywood types and others have discovered the place. Here's what HJ said in a 1994 article in High Country News, "When I find someone is from somewhere far away I'm rude to them. I get annoyed and angry. I feel you were in your place and it got ruined. Now you're coming to my place to ruin it." 

Tell us what you really think, HJ.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Men in Hats - Part Five


Lenny Foster

Among my portrait victims over the years have been friends, and more specifically, friends who are photographers. Usually, it’s a grab shot but sometimes it’s an honest to goodness portrait session. A handful of times I’ve exchanged sessions. They shoot me. I shoot them.

In today’s episode of Men in Hats are ones I’ve extracted from those rare events.

Cris Pulos

With his trademark Greek fisherman’s cap Cris Pulos is full of craggy charm. He got a twinkle in his eyes and a playful quality. This photograph could have been taken dockside on Santorini in 1949 or under my portal in 2016. Who’s to say? Black and white portraits are timeless. Some of Edward Curtis’s images from early in the last century are remarkably contemporary today. Much like Peter Lev in the opening salvo of the Men in Hats series Cris said he looked older than his years in this image. Sorry to tell you Cris, 70 years on this earth does that to a guy. He studied photography at the New England School of Photography, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and with Minor White at MIT. Cris Pulos specializes in Photogravure.

Lenny Foster

I leaned on Lenny Foster for a portrait party several years ago. Lenny, arguably Taos’s best-known and certainly best loved photographer till he left us for Saint Augustine, consented to the shoot which was meant to memorialize his selection as Best of Show in the annual Fall Arts Festival. He’s an enormously charismatic man who proved to be as comfortable in front of the camera as behind it. He’s also never without a lid which makes him an essential part of the series. Two weeks ago, I him how many hats he owns. He told me five. I would have guessed thirty. Like a skilled actor he phased through a compendium of poses, from his usual sunny self to more brooding takes, the ones I favor.

Josef Tornick

Photographer Josef Tornick describes himself as a project-oriented humanist documentary photographer. A few less descriptors would be helpful, Josef. He names Josef Sudek, Manuel Bravo, Flor Garduno, Paul Strand, David Michael Kennedy, and Keith Carter among many others as models for his work. Josef’s magnum opus is 2009’s Tir A Mhurain – 50 years On, an homage to the roughhewn inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides and Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. The book’s title refers to Paul Strand’s 1954 photographic journal of the same name.

John Farnsworth

John Farnsworth had called himself a photographer for ten years. But for nearly 50 years before his conversion, he was one of the Southwest’s best- known painters. We first met fifteen years ago at a painting workshop in Canyon de Chelly where he and the late Louisa McElwain were instructors. When we connected by telephone before the trip, we found that we were the same age, old, and had haunted the same Phoenix dive bars and dance halls in the early sixties. We also discovered that his mother had been a switchboard operator in Williams, AZ in the post war years. My wife’s aunt Nora was a switchboard in Williams at the same time. John’s the son of a railroad engineer, his father’s father and all of his uncles worked for the railroad. His mother’s people were loggers and sawmill operators. He grew up in railroad towns and logging camps strewn across Northern Arizona. His accounts of his early years suggest a rough and tumble youth. He joined the Army directly out of high school when after a drunken escapade the local judge gave him a choice. Join this man’s Army tomorrow or go to jail. That was 1959.

When he was nine his mother and his new stepfather took him to Taos. He recalls standing in a gallery overhearing two men discuss a painting on the wall. Suddenly he noticed that one of the men was the painting. The painting was the man. In that moment John Farnsworth became an artist. He sold his first watercolors while serving at Fort McArthur in San Pedro, California. After the Army he painted while working as a draftsman, a commercial artist, and an Indian Trader. He became a full-time artist in 1967. 

The camera was no more than a research tool until the advent of digital cameras. After a fifty year career as a painter he realized he could be an artist with a camera, too.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Men in Hats, Part Four - Polar Opposites


James Iso who served in WWll, Korea and Viet Nam

One August a few years back I attended the annual pilgrimage at the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp near Cody, Wyoming. I had visited Manzanar a decade before, but it was a chance encounter with the Topaz Camp in Delta, Utah that piqued my interest in the great American tragedy that began in 1942. There on a windblown patch of desert was the footprint of the Topaz camp. The broad nothing exemplified the intent of the U.S. government, which was to exile 120,000 Japanese Americans, most of them citizens, to the most inhospitable and remote places they could find. Topaz and Heart Mountain were such places, dry and hot in summer and snowbound in winter and windblown all year long.

That it was a human tragedy is well established. The revelation to me was the resilience of the internees who faced their oppression with dignity and resolve, an attitude called “gaman” which is to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. The Northern California internees were gathered in horse barns at Tanforan Racetrack in San Bruno, California. Then they were disbursed to ten camps in California, Arizona, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, and Arkansas. Yes, Arkansas.

I was waffling about attending Heart Mountain’s August Pilgrimage. I wasn’t sure that it was appropriate for a non-Japanese to participate. But when I asked Brain Liesinger, the camp’s executive director at the time, he replied “It’s absolutely appropriate.” To visit the camp with a dwindling number of former internees felt like an act of civic duty.

The attendees, from former internees to their great grandchildren, were the most inspiring I’ve ever encountered. They were energetic, warm, and accomplished to a person. I was in awe of them. It was a great privilege to be in their presence,

James Iso and Wyoming Veterans Affair Commissioner Ron Akin

None was more impressive than James Iso of Rosewood, California. At the opening dinner I was seated with Ron Akin, the Veterans Affairs Commissioner of Wyoming, a liberal of all things in the Cowboy State, and two former internees, one of whom was Mr. Iso. During the opening presentation I overheard Akin tell someone that Iso had served in three wars. I took that to mean that James Iso had served in WWll, Korea and Viet Nam. It seemed implausible.

The next day during my visit to the interpretive center I introduced myself. I said, “Last night I overheard that you served in WWll, Korea and Viet Nam. Is that even possible?”

He replied, “Yes, not always in the military but always in uniform.” Channel your inner Graham Greene with that morsel.

Iso continued, “You know we shortened the war by two years. Everybody talks about the 442nd Regimental Combat team but some of us served in other ways. We translated Japanese communications, broke their codes, and leaked misinformation. In one case we won a major battle when the Japanese commander acted on our false information. I told Mr. Iso that it was one hell of a story and dangled the idea of writing it. He intimated that he’d prefer a younger Japanese American to write his story and it’s hard to argue the point.

As our conversation wound down, I asked him how old he was. He said, “Guess.” I didn’t want to, but the math added up to old. He declared with more than a little pride, “I’m ninety.” I was nonplussed. James Iso was bright eyed and beyond intelligent. He looked me dead in the eye as we spoke. He moved effortlessly and wore a suit like a man half his age. I was in my mid-seventies and he was my peer.

John Bustos and the honor guard

Then I had a peripheral encounter was with retired First Sargent John Bustos. He would be commanding the local honor guard when it saluted the 800 Japanese American internees from Heart Mountain who a fought in World War Two. The day before the festivities I was scouting the camp when a burly gentleman asked why I was photographing the camp. I told him I was attending the pilgrimage and that I had deep interest in the camps and wanted to capture the spirit of the occasion. 

First Sargent John Bustos

Bustos, the son of an immigrant Mexican mother, told me he had served 27 years in the Army and had earned his stripes in the Viet Nam War.  He was an imposing guy. At 70 he packed 200 pounds of muscle on his 5’-7” frame and looked like he could still lead a platoon into battle. He was a big talker and a bad listener.  While his smile was bright, his eyes were cold. And he had politics to the right of Attila the Hun. He told me there was one live round in the volleys to be fired during the ceremony. That round, he told me, was reserved for President Obama. He told me twice to be sure I heard him. It was that funny, I guess.