Sunday, July 31, 2022

Cruel Beauty

Looking north from Holman Hill.

Since April 6 the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon fires have scorched 341,735 acres of land. That makes the combined fires the largest ever in New Mexico. As of today, the fire is 96% contained and there is no new fire activity. As is so often the case, both fires were caused by operator error. The Hermit’s Peak Fire was started by a prescribed burn at the base of the peak 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas, NM. That the fire was caused by a perversely timed burn just as New Mexico entered its spring windy season is the subject of heated discussion, excuse the pun, and much derision. The Calf Canyon Fire began as “pile burn” that lay as embers under the blanket of three winter snows which ignited after the thaw. These events join others that have besmirched the judgment of U.S. Forest Service. It recalls the Cerro Grande fire of May 2000 which charred 43,000 acres of timber west of Los Alamos and torched 400 homes. It, too, was started by a prescribed burn in the spring. The parallels of cause and timing of Hermit's Peak and Calf Canyon Fires and Cerro Grande are obvious. Who would prescribe a burn in the New Mexico’s windy season?  We are not amused.

Charred Pines and green grass

Ebony trunks and ochre needles

Lone pine on the hilltop

The aftermath of the Hermit’s Peak and Calf Canyon Fires drew me over US Hill on NM Highway 518 on Saturday to see what nature and man had wrought. I found denuded mountain sides and stands of charred conifers interspersed with aspens that survived the searing flames relatively intact. I need to ask my botanist nephew why that’s the case.

Cruel Beauty

Blooms beneath the ruins

Thanks to four weeks of monsoons so far (that’s a predictable as April winds) the fecund forest floor was lush with new green grass, and blooming flowers and shrubs. It spoke to the resilience and tenacity of the natural world and its will to rebuild and to flourish. It also spoke to the merits of forest thinning and controlled burns when used intelligently at the right time and place.

I found the juxtaposition of the blackened trunks of the Ponderosa pines, the nearly white aspens, and the bold shrubs hard to capture. And, to the extent that I did so, color leant promise to the tragic scene. The russet limbs and needles of the conifers showed the aftermath of the fiery onslaught and the vibrant undergrowth showed a new day dawning.

Color and black and white tell very different stories, much like hope and despair. The color shows that nature’s appetite to regrow is voracious. While the monochrome is bleak and tells truer story of the devastation.

It's oddly wondrous either way.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

The new old spot color

Reflected Sky, Bartlett, NH

Turn Signal, El Prado, NM

For two weeks posting a blog has been dancing on the periphery of my consciousness at best, needing to be done but not commanding the attention that it deserves after some 800 consecutive weeks of same. The Covid fog to which I alluded last time has abated for the most part, but my brain has become a short attention span theatre. In light of that affliction and because I want to develop a worthy “Spot Color” portfolio these images are part of a retrospective that has emerged from revisiting seven million images and discovering that the concept has been part of my repertoire since the beginning of time or 2002 whichever is longer.

The S in Rand House, Randsburg, CA

Adornment, Elizabethtown, NM

Welcome. We're Closed, Rice, CA

The soaring success of spot color which revitalized my limping career in 2021 turns out to have been lurking in the disturbed reaches of my brain since at least 2002 when the top photograph was taken. Oddly enough Reflected Sky was rendered as color, black and white and spot color from the jump. So, I had something in my hot hands that long ago. I just didn’t know it.

You may have noticed there have been a Helluva lot less words this week and last. Call it laziness or, better yet, ruthless editing.

Sunday, July 17, 2022


Fresh adobe plaster

Mixing mud and conversation

Since the last time I photographed the enjarre or mudding of an adobe church the scaffolding that used to be erected against the mottled earthen walls has been replaced by industrial strength cranes. Last week I asked an aging congregant of San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos when they had modernized the mudding process. He told me it was 8-10 years ago. I commented that the new process loses some of the character of the old ways and feels less like a communal endeavor. He agreed but replied that interest in maintaining the traditions among the younger parishioners was disappointingly low. That was apparent to me. The average age of the few participants in the mudding this year was over 70.  The exceptions were the two men in the bucket who were in their forties. I learned later that they were paid workers. 

Fifteen years ago the enjarre of San José de Gracia in Las Trampas was a full on fiesta with elders and tots, women and men all contributing as a community. It was joyous and welcoming to an Anglo outsider.

Readying the bucket

Two men in a bucket

Man and trowel

Still the timeless process that began in the Middle East took my imaginings back to 1772 when construction began on the most famous Spanish Colonial Mission Church in New Mexico. The iconic iglesia made famous by Adams and O'Keefe among others was completed in 1816.

Adobe was one of the first building materials used by ancient humans to create buildings. The method dates at least as far back as the 8th century BC in Mesopotamia. Etymologists trace the word’s origins to an old Arabic word ai-tob meaning brick.

This post comes to you from a Covid fog that has shrouded Casa Immel for a week now. I limped to the finish line on this one, folks.

Sunday, July 10, 2022

Robert Francis Doyle

The full on map of Ireland, Robert Francis Doyle, age 75

I’ve pursued the short but sweet storytelling series called Encounters of the First Kind with less than diligence. In fact, I haven’t published an account of one of those chance meetings in three months at least. That time it was about Gilbert Vigil who gave me chapter and verse about his Viet Nam draft avoidance and resulting prison term. Then there was his Jehovah’s Witness faith, He didn’t proselytize exactly but left the door open for my future conversation to the religion he called “very strict.” In fifteen minutes, I learned the essentials of Gilbert’s life.

Robert Francis Doyle gave me less to work with and I’m left to deduce his life’s arc. He was wearing a full Campagnolo bike kit from thirty years ago. His 1993 Bianchi bike lay at his side, it was the color that Bianchi invented. Celeste, a subdued green. The same as the one my son bought when he was in high school in the 80’s.

Robert’s Massachusetts origin was evident in his first few words. I recognized the lilting Bay State cadence and missing R's instantly. I asked where were you raised? He told me Maynard, a rough and tumble Milltown further out Route 117 from our home of 23 years, Lincoln. Maynard was part of my bike route in the competitive triathlon days of the mid-80s.

Bob allowed that Maynard was a blue-collar burg where too many of his friends didn’t see 60. He implied that demon drink played a role in in his scrappy saga, too. He allowed that he was saved by The Program.

I learned the Bob had lived in Manhattan Beach in the early 70’s. I lived in Manhattan Beach in 1961 I could recall the many watering holes that I closed too many nights. I recalled Cisco’s and Pancho’s; a music club where Kenny Rogers and his group the First Edition held forth. Wiki says that was 1967 but I’m sticking with 1961. It makes a better story. There was a piano bar a couple of doors away from the apartment I shared with an ex-Chicago cop, so he said, and a blazingly gay Latino linguist. Names? I haven’t a clue. Around the corner on Rosecrans was the divey Hard Cover where the entertainment was feeding goldfish to the resident piranha Sick em.

Fittingly the entrance to our two-floor abode lined up perfectly with the door to the bar across the street.

Sunday, July 03, 2022

Cris Pulos . An abrupt goodbye

The real Cris Pulos

Cris Pulos was my friend for 15 years. He was one of four long time photographers who met every couple of months to share their latest efforts and to opine on the state of our art. Cris had been a photographer since he studied at the New England School of Photography in 1969, and probably much earlier. He studied Photography and Printmaking at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from1969 to 1971. And he studied Creative Photography with Minor White at MIT in 1971. And in 1975 he took Master Classes in Printmaking at Colorado State University. In short Cris was a serious photographer and a student of the craft for more than 50 years. He was also a renowned photogravure practitioner whose work is shown at Wilder Nightingale Fine Art in Taos and the Ernesto Mayans Gallery in Santa Fe.  

His work has been shown in dozens of exhibitions across the United States. One was a four man show called Four Guys Two Galleries in 2016. The four guys were Cris, Terry Thompson, Bill Davis, and yours truly. The galleries were Wilder Nightingale Fine Art and David Anthony Fine Art both in Taos. I'm glad we mounted a show together.

He paid the bills as a chef from 1975 through 2003. He was the chef-owner of the Chartwood Inn in Manitou Springs, Colorado from 1988 until he and his wife Jean moved to Taos nearly 20 years ago.

When Terry Thompson called Tuesday to tell me Cris had passed away at 77, I was stunned. He was the youngster of our foursome. We knew Cris had been struggling since the first of the year but had no idea how serious it was. He had jumped off a truck onto a rock and ruptured his spleen. We got occasional updates on his spleen but nothing more.

Terry learned on Tuesday that Cris also had cancer. Then he contracted Covid, and our understanding is that he died of pneumonia. Tyler Hannigan, a neighbor of Cris’s, gave the bad news to Terry who in turn passed it on to me and the fourth member of our group, Bill Davis. I must underscore that the details of Cris’s passing are third hand and subject to errors of fact.

Cris Pulos was a gregarious guy and a supporter and friend to, well, everybody. He was also a guileless soul. There was no pretense in the man. He was a great storyteller who was given to repeating the best ones. It was oddly endearing. He was a connoisseur of food, wine and well realized photographs. He will be missed.

We didn’t know about the cancer, the Covid and the pneumonia till he’d departed this earth and it was too late to offer our love and support. All we knew was that his spleen was not healing and that he was housebound. Shouldn't  that have prompted a little more attention? Yes, it should have. It's a lesson I hope I've learned.

Cris Pulos was unabashedly Greek. His face was a map of the Greek Islands. His moustache, Greek fisherman’s hat and smile are the image I’ll always carry of a truly good man. Some years back he and I traded portrait sessions. The fruit of that effort is up top. He thought he looked old. I thought he was ruggedly handsome. He looked just like Cris Pulos.