Sunday, June 27, 2021

The lava rock homestead

The lava rock house and ventilation shaft for the potato cellar

Just north of the New Mexico-Colorado border we turned west onto County Road H to cross the broad San Luis Valley toward Manassa, Jack Dempsey’s birthplace. Our objective was artistic inspiration after a sequestered year and a half. It’s widely known that I have to leave town to take a picture. We hoped to find fodder in the empty reaches of the broad San Luis Valley, the highest Alpine valley in the world. Boy, do love superlatives. The mostly empty valley stretches 122 mile north to south and 74 miles east to west. That’s 8,000 square miles at an average elevation of 7,664 feet. That sucker is cold in January. The wind bites. It is not an attraction.

A fine piece of construction

Lava rock and clouds

What is an attraction is a big empty bracketed by the towering Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the Great Sand Dunes. Agriculture is the valley’s industry. Potatoes reign supreme. The outfits can be family operated like the 450 head of sheep on the Abeyta spread in Mogote or industrial strength like Jim McCullough’s potato operation in Monte Vista. A decade ago, the intrepid McCullough was producing 1,000,000 100 bags of potatoes. I’m sure he’s doubled it by now.

Farming and ranching are challenging pursuits in these harsh environs. That was evident as we drive west in County Road H to Mesita. We passed two farmsteads both vacant and left to the elements.

Potato cellar and Sangres

Framing the Sangres

The more impressive spread featured a substantial two-story dwelling that appeared to be built of lava rock. At one time it had been one hell of a home but now it was an aviary that emptied when I approached. Another element found across the San Luis Valley was an underground storage area for the potatoes. I’ll call it a root cellar though the size of the thing warrants something more grand.                                         

It turns out that most of the buildings in tiny Mesita were built from lava rock. I learned later that Mesita Volcano or Mesita Hill just west of was once mined for this very purpose. 

Sunday, June 20, 2021

It's still still life

This is the glowing grill of Terry Sewell's beloved 1948 Chevy sedan. It was shot in low light inside his Scottsdale, garage.

Peggy and I sat in the patio of a now-defunct café on Santa Monica's Ocean Avenue. We were having a late breakfast with our friend Jamie Hindman whose house was several blocks away. Maybe it's because of my long restaurant career that I'm drawn to table settings and backbars.

This is third and last still life post for now. Whereas last week’s entries were of the abstracted variety today’s are distinctly representational. A week ago, the photographs I offered were head scratchers as in “what the hell is that?” In this case what you see is what it is.

I shot Louisa McElwain's pallet while on a painting trip into Arizona's magnificent Canyon de Chelly. Louisa and my friend John Farnsworth were the instructors. Louisa was an enthusiastic teacher and a prolific painter who produced at least two huge pieces every day. I'm talking about 36" x 48" paintings at $25,000 per. Sadly she has left our midst.

Some of us rode the length of the canyon astride Navajo ponies. This is tack that was hung over a fence at our camp site. Señor Farnsworth was fond of this shot. He thought it could be the start of a series of tack and cowboy paraphernalia. Unless one is a series, it wasn't.

I was on a photo jaunt to Mora, NM with my photographer friend Daryl Black. She introduced me to what is now the Mora Valley Wool Mill. It was Tapetes de Lana at the time. Tapete means rug and lana is wool. The mill produces spun yarns including those from Navajo Churro sheep. These gears are from a 19th century spinning machine in the backroom. 

It was Halloween in the village of El Rito, NM. This inventive scarecrow did it's darnest to make me a scaredy cat. Or as my Scottish friend David Wilson would say "Feardy cat."

Truth told I had hoped to write about the Maine Coast’s magnetic Monhegan Island. But so far, I haven’t found the hard drive where most of my photographs of the art colony live. I shall persevere, however, since it’s a matter of some import. I intend for the Monhegan story to be my article in Shadow and Light Magazine’s July-August edition. The final cut is due in two weeks.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

It's more still life

Continuing our journey through Still Lifes over the years is an exploration of abstracts. Because still lifes are often tight shots that show only a portion of the subject they lend themselves abstracted depictions. Those first digital years produced a bounty of photographs that could make you scratch your head, “What the hell is that?”

The streets of downtown Salzburg are artfully cobbled as you can see. The patterns of the pavers and the diagonal shadows make for a snappy abstract still life called Pave and Shadow.

I'm shooting straight down on a newly constructed deck in the village of Arroyo Seco just north of Taos. It's called Plane Geometry because of its arithmetic precision. Shadow again completes the ensemble.

Yet another marriage of form and shadow at the Cumbres and Toltec Railroad yard in Chama, NM. This is Injection Molded. What might this be?

Precision and shadow also play a role in this shot of aluminum siding on industrial building in Center, CO. We'll call it When Vertical Meets Diagonal.

Called Wheels of Change these are the rims of heavy equipment wheels at a junkyard in Colebrook, NH.

Some of these may fall into the head scratching category. At least I hope so.

Sunday, June 06, 2021

It's Still Life

Butternut Squash, Fryeburg, ME

Found Art, Rinconada, NM

When I made the switch to digital in March of 2002, I immediately gravitated to still lifes and headshots. In the show at Wilder Nightingale that opened May 29 there were five photographs of the former persuasion. And all five were a jewel-like 4”x 4” matted to 8”x8” and framed in white wood.

As I observed visitors to the gallery study my wall over the course of the seven-hour marathon, I noticed which images drew each victim’s attention. My friend David Michael Kennedy, the renowned Platinum-Palladium photographer and printer from El Rito, scanned all 18 photographs on the wall then moved in close, maybe 6 inches, to scrutinize Butternut Squash shown up top. I know you’re sick to death of seeing that nugget but it’s part of the story. And I can't get enough of it.

Several people asked, “What’s your favorite?” I usually responded with three contenders but always included Butternut Squash. A dozen or more times I gave attendees a walking tour of all the images including the where, why, and how the photograph was made. In the case of Butternut Squash, it went like this.

It was October 2002. We had just left the Fryeburg Fair in Fryeburg, Maine. It was drizzling and gray. On the way back to North Conway, NH where we lived at the time, we stopped at a farm stand with carefully curated displays of pumpkins and squash. Cucurbitas to the vegans among you. The squashes were held in 3’x3’x3’ wooden bins. Because there was light rain and the sky was gray, the light was diffuse, and the squashes were rendered semi-gloss.

I was taken by the rich values and the roundness of the fruits in the dark container. I stood directly above the bin and shot down at the squash. I tried to be as parallel as I could. Later, when I processed the image, the sheen, volume, and heavy shadows were even better than I visualized. Funny thing about making photographs, I remember the circumstances even the feelings I felt 20 years or 50 years ago.

This story was to be about still lifes, generally, and now I’ve spent half a post on one lonely image. I’m easily sidetracked, no?

Alignment at The Boxed Set Gallery

Alignment Statement and white glove treatment

The whole shooting match

I could fill several posts with still lifes. And to that point, my first show in 2006 was called Alignment and it was all still lifes all the time. My second, too. That one was at the Boxed Set Gallery in Santa Fe and, as the name suggests, it showed boxed sets from each photographer. And what, pray tell, was on the cover of my box?  Butternut Squash, of course.

Then in 2009 I was part of a juried show called It’s Still Life at the RayKo Photo Center in San Francisco. My image in that show was Found Art. Like Butternut Squash it’s also part of Immel² New Perspectives at Wilder Nightingale. My dear friend, the amazing painter Greg Moon, bought that little jewel last Saturday. Thanks, cowboy. Found Art was named a 2009 Singular Image in Black and White Magazine.

I may follow this with more posts and still lifes. Then again, as we’ve established, I’m easily sidetracked.