Sunday, May 29, 2022

Navajo Visions

Though I didn’t knock it out of the park when I photographed the Four Corners and the Navajo Nation a couple of weeks ago there was a smattering of photographs that spoke to the vastness and solitude of the big empty.

South of Blanding on my way to Flagstaff at the junction of the roads to Montezuma Creek and Mexican Hat I encountered the abandoned headquarters of Wild Rivers Expeditions tucked into a red mesa. In the process I discovered Bluff Dwellings, a new high-end resort across Highway 191. It was only six months ago that I stayed in Bluff and pronounced it dead in the water despite its red mesas, Comb Ridge, and the San Juan River that flows through it. Somebody with deep pockets has greater vision than I do.

Heading south a few miles north of the Arizona border I spotted a Navajo homestead below a bluff and two mesas. It was a sweet habitation in charmed location, the kind of setting that fills my chest. Then a day later driving back to Taos through Thoreau and Crownpoint, NM I photographed an iconic Diné rancho replete with a Hogan and corrals. It dawned on me I had photographed that very scene at least ten years ago. I didn’t even remember I had driven the road till I saw the picturesque outfit. I drove dozens of mile without a dwelling half an hour at a stretch without another vehicle.

A few miles past the homestead I came upon a scattered community strewn along the hillside outside Torreon. A friend was a nurse practitioner at the Navajo Clinic in Torreon for 15 years after as many years doing the same in Nepal. She told us that the Navajo Nation was as close to a third world country as she could find in America. I wouldn't argue the point.

And, finally, a duel between two icons outside Shiprock.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Zuma Zuma Zuma

It’s 8:30 Sunday night and I’ve slaved over photographs from my recent trip to Navajo Country for days. And while I whined about the proceeds of 72 hours in that serenely empty land, I can see promise in the work that I damned so strongly in may last post. And considering that revelation, I need more time to properly manipulate the images. Manipulate is such a harsh word.

Yesterday, Sunday, I spent the morning at David Michael Kennedy’s studio in the village of El Rito, NM. It was at his amazing studio that I first met the master photographer and world class raconteur. The dude can tell a story. It must have been a decade ago. On that occasion we purchased a small palladium print of a Longhorn steer. It’s a treasure that's hung in a place of honor in the Immel abode. When we bought the piece, I didn’t have the cash or a check and at the time he didn’t take credit cards. I told him my sad story and he said, “No problem. Send me a check. I know where to find you.” I’m pretty sure I paid him, but you never know. You’ve heard the story.

Today I bought a photograph of Bob Dylan that David took at Dylan’s Zuma Beach home in 1985. The location, Zuma Beach, was a selling point. It’s the beach where my cohort of Art Center students spent many a weekend. No, I was not a student. I was an insurance adjuster. Zuma Beach was also the namesake of our Mexican restaurant in Boston, not to mention the name of Neil Young’s 1975 album. My Zuma period was 1961. That spread dates me in a big way since Neil Young is a 100 years old. Then again he has Daryl Hannah.

David’s photograph of Dylan is a moody piece that looks unposed, just the way like it. Why isn’t there an image included in this post? Well, because I don’t have a file with which a make a quality thumbnail. That will wait for later.

Instead, here’s what I saw on my drive back to Taos from El Rito.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Apocalypse Now

It’s one hell of a note when your best images were made in hour four of a 72-hour photo safari. Except for the set included here my efforts in my latest sortie into Navajo Country were wanting. I fear that I ventured forth with less than a full tank, inspirationally speaking.

I had planned the trip with a clear objective, to create more and better photographs for the July-August issue of Shadow and Light magazine. Then I discovered I’d inverted issues. The article was for the May-June issue, so I had the three days to write the thing. That meant I’d have to make do with the photographs in hand. Thankfully the photographs did the trick. They supported the story Cruel Beauty, uh, beautifully.

So, my motivation for the trip was dampened. I didn’t really have to go. But I thought, “What the hell? You’ve already blocked the time. It’ll be fun and you do love the Navajo Nation.” I packed for week and was back in three days which tells you everything you need to know.

This grouping was made in 60mph winds while I was blasted by Shiprock, New Mexico’s finest sand. It was a scene from the apocalypse. The end was nigh and all I got was a mouth full of grit and these six dandies. These were all taken at high noon though the blowing sand turned day to dusk in some of them. That's the silhouette of Shiprock itself obscured by a veil of blowing sand in the bottom photograph.

As to Shadow and Light, I’m in my fourth year as a regular contributor. My byline is called Telling Stories. In the May-June issue I juxtapose the Navajo Nation’s breathtaking beauty and rich culture with the reality of its “temporal deprivation” as I call it in the story.

Heads up. I'll be forwarding a special subscription offer for the worthy online magazine in the next couple of days.

Sunday, May 08, 2022

LLano, Mesa and Mountainside

Corral #1, Taos Pueblo Land

Framed by Wire, Taos Pueblo Land

Taos is an artist’s dream. That’s why it’s been an art colony since turn of the 20th century. New Mexico, for that matter, boasts that almost 70% of the population creates an art or craft.  So, to live in the Land of Enchantment is to be immersed in a sea of artistic creations. We’re inspired at every turn.

Juniper #1, Cebolla Mesa

Juniper #2, Cebolla Mesa

Abandonado #1, Lama, NM

Abandonado #2, Lama, NM

Though I’m inclined to wander far afield for subject matter when I look carefully at the magical landscape nearby, I’m entranced by the wonder that surrounds me every day. And if I look carefully and closely enough a subject always declares itself. Such was the case last week when I took a magical mystery tour of Pueblo land north of El Prado, of Cebolla Mesa that overlooks the Rio Grande Gorge and of the belvedere or height of land in the village of Lama. The sky costars in this production.

I’m in the grips of a magazine deadline so this entry is on the short side. More from the field, I hope, next week. The open road does beckon.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Abó: Under the Banner of Heaven

History lurks in every nook and cranny of New Mexico. Ancient Puebloan societies have flourished in the Land of Enchantment for 7,000 years. Beyond the best-known Pueblos like Taos Pueblo, Chaco Canyon and Bandelier are dozens of others that are lightly visited but no less historic. Among those lesser lights are Pecos National Monument and the Salinas Mission Pueblos which were etched into the grasslands beneath the Manzano Mountains of Central New Mexico.

The first of the Salinas Pueblos to be recognized for its 7,000-year history was Gran Quivera which became a National Monument in 1909. In 1980 Abó and Quarai became part of the monument, and the three Salt Missions became Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument in 1988.

The Tompiro Indians built nine villages where the mountains meet the the plains at the eastern perimeter of Puebloan culture. They mined salt which was used to preserve meat. They bartered the valuable commodity for food and trade goods. The Tompiro economy was based on trade between the Great Plains tribes, the Rio Grande Pueblos even from the Pacific Northwest and Mexico. 

Don Juan de Oñate and the Franciscans entered the region in 1598. They built Missions at each of the Tompiro Pueblos using the women and children as slave labor. It was a pattern of abuse repeated throughout New Mexico and the Americas. Their conscripts constructed towering structures with roof beams from the Manzano Mountain forest thirty miles away.

A lengthy drought followed by years of crop failures ravaged the Tompiro Pueblos. In one winter, Gran Quivera lost 480 members. The Conquistadors and the Catholic Church’s demands for labor and fealty were compounded by European diseases like Smallpox and Syphilis that decimated Gran Quivera by 1672 and all of the Tompiro Pueblos were abandoned in 1680, another testament to colonialism under the banner of Heaven.

All images are of Abó Mission Pueblo