Tag Archives: New Mexico

Parallel Worlds

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 2. Las Trampas, New Mexico, 2012.

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 2.
Las Trampas, New Mexico, 2012.

One thing I enjoy about photography is the sense of living in a parallel world.  What I mean by this is the ability to see things in a parallel way.  On one level, I certainly see the world in the work-a-day, get-around kind of way that everyone does.  But it’s also fun and enjoyable to see the world as a photographer, looking for and being struck by light and shadow, frame and composition, and so forth.

I think we all live in parallel worlds.  When I look at the San Jose de Gracia church, I see it as a work of visual art.  An engineer might see it in terms of load, structure, and dimension.  An historian might see it as representing the Spanish colonial influence in New Mexico.  A New Mexican might experience it with warmth and a feeling of home.

Living in parallel worlds like this gives everyone a unique perspective on the common world we all share.  Sharing these unique perspectives is one of the great joys of life.  Whatever your parallel world is, embrace it, live it, revel in it.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Photography In Situ

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 1, Las Trampas, New Mexico

San Jose de Gracia Church No. 1, Las Trampas, New Mexico

To me, northern New Mexico is one of the last places in the United States that retains a distinctly regional cultural flavor.  Among the things that contribute are the many adobe structures that dot the landscape.  The church that is the subject of the image in this post, San Jose de Gracia in Las Trampas, is a well-known landmark and is a popular subject among photographers and painters.

When you take the time to see how this church has been represented in painting and photography, a certain theme becomes apparent.  The depictions of the church in fine art painting and photography tend to place it in a pristine, unobstructed environment.  Fine art photographs rarely include the telephone poles or the dirt road in the foreground.  Paintings often take even more license, such as by changing the arrangement and proportion of the church to the ridge in the background, either to profile the church against the sky, or to position it in the shadow of the surrounding mountains.

I certainly don’t have a problem with any of this.  An important element of art is interpretation of the subject.  Most people probably take this kind of manipulation for granted with paintings, where the term “artistic license” is well known and understood.  It may be less known (among non-photographers, anyway) that photographers also can take quite liberal and substantial artistic licenses with their subjects.  Techniques such as framing, camera placement, lens selection, etc. routinely are used to make photographic subjects take on attributes and characteristics that don’t necessarily reflect the reality of how the scene actually looked.  I myself work hard to present the subjects in my photographs in very considered ways designed to communicate a specific vision I have of the subject that I want the viewer to see.

Nevertheless, I am surprised that I don’t see more attention paid by artists to the environment surrounding their subjects.  If you were to survey the body of fine art paintings and photographs of this church, you might come to the conclusion that it sits on an isolated hilltop, surrounded by rolling meadows that gently and perfectly blend into a magnificent mountain backdrop, with nary a telephone pole or dirt road in sight.  It’s as if this way of presenting the church, while certainly valid, is the only way.

I hope that’s not the case.  I think that showing this church in the context of its surroundings – it’s contemporary surroundings – is not only valid, but has a dignity and beauty of its own.  While not appropriate for every photograph, the in situ approach of using surrounding elements to show the subject in its natural environment is a powerful and often underused mode of presentation.  This is especially true where the subject is a popular and frequently depicted one, as is the case with the San Jose de Gracia church.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , |

Pleasing the Critics, Pleasing the Public, Pleasing Yourself

Tree and Cross, Near Taos, New Mexico

I’ve observed an interesting state of affairs in photography.  Critics seem to like photographs that are conceptual or documentary – the art value of the photograph is not about the photograph per se, but about a concept that the photograph illustrates or about the thing the photograph depicts.  The public tends to like photographs that are representational and beautiful – the art value of the photograph is the photograph itself, in terms of its appearance, presentation, and craftsmanship.

While these two approaches are not necessarily mutually exclusive, it’s often difficult to produce works that check both of these boxes.  Photographs that are made simply to be beautiful don’t need to present a deep concept or document a particular subject, and often don’t.  Conversely, photographs that are designed to provoke an intellectual response or present a specific subject don’t need to be beautiful, and often aren’t.  Moreover, if a photograph comes down on one side of this divide, it is often saddled with an adverse inference as to the other.  For example, photographs that seek to be beautiful are often dismissed by critics as lacking merit as serious art, while photographs that are conceptual or documentary are often overlooked by the public as objects of beauty.

It seems as if it’s not possible to please both sides of the house.  What’s a photographer to do?

I think there can be only one answer to this question:  make work that pleases yourself.  This strategy certainly avoids the necessity of having to commit to one camp or the other, but there is more to it than this.  The simple truth is, you produce your best work when you are working to please yourself, regardless of how it is received by your audience-at-large.  The image in this post is called “Tree and Cross, Near Taos, New Mexico.”  I have a guess as to which side of the house my audience-at-large would place it, but I’m keeping mum about that for the reasons I’ve discussed herein.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , , , , , , , |

When You Do Something Because You Can’t Not Do It

Sunset in the Canyon of the Rio Grande, New Mexico

There are at least two things in life that, for me, fall into the category of things I couldn’t not do even if I wanted to.  Photography is one of them.

It wasn’t always like this.  Certainly before I purchased my first digital camera back in 2006, I wasn’t practicing photography at all.  Even after that, it was a very stop-and-start process for many years, where brief periods of learning were frequently followed by months, or even years, of inactivity.  It wasn’t until 2012, when I made my first black and white print, that things really turned a corner.  That print was a tipping point of some kind, because ever since then, I can’t get seem to get enough of this discipline.

If there was a common thread, though, an underlying current beneath this whole thing, it has been that photography truly has been a lifelong interest of mine.  Even when I was young, I would notice and look at photographs in a way that I didn’t for painting, or sculpture, or any of the other visual arts.  There was something about the realism of photographs, combined with the element of artistic interpretation, that was uniquely compelling about them.   As I grew older, I always held photography as something that I wanted to eventually explore, even if immediate needs and circumstances at any given time made that difficult.  When digital photography put photographic processing on a computer instead of a wet darkroom, it finally became practical for me to take it up in a serious way.

I think some of the things I’ve identified in this post are signs that should be paid attention to.  If you have a consistent interest in something, that lasts over time and doesn’t go away, then maybe you should be giving it a try.  If you’ve tried and failed one or more times, but the interest is still there and is sincere, maybe keep trying for it.  I’ve found that a true interest sustains the expenditure of effort, and effort expended over time usually results in accomplishment.  And if you’ve reached the point where it is something you can’t not do, then you might really be on to something.

The image in this post, “Sunset in the Canyon of the Rio Grande,” has been banging around on my computer for quite some time.  It is an image I thought would be relatively straightforward to work on, relatively easy to achieve the look I had in my mind for it.  Surprisingly, this wasn’t the case at all.  It took several cycles of trying things out, then shelving it for awhile, the coming back with fresh eyes to try something new.  To be honest, I just wanted to delete it after awhile, and on several occasions almost did.  But there was something there.  I found I kept working on it, because I just couldn’t not work on it.  And in the end, I think I accomplished the goal I set for it, at least to my own satisfaction.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , |

Always Bring Your Camera

Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe, Santa Fe, New Mexic

Here’s another fairly basic, but important, lesson of photography:  always have your camera with you.  You can’t capture an image if you don’t have a camera with which to photograph it.

On a recent trip to Santa Fe, New Mexico, I really had not intended to do any photography.  But when I travel these days, I feel a little under-equipped if I don’t have a camera with me, so I threw my camera bag and tripod in the back of my car, figuring it would just take up space until I returned home.

Well, sure enough, while walking around Santa Fe and not thinking particularly about photography, I happened to walk by the Sanctuario de Guadalupe and was struck by this scene.  I couldn’t help but take in the texture of the adobe, the flowing lines of the alcove, and the serene expression on the statue, and think that it would make a good image.  So, I grabbed my camera out of my hotel room not too far away and was able to capture the image in this post, “Statue and Flowers, Sanctuario de Guadalupe.”

I’ll admit, I don’t carry my camera gear with me everywhere I go.  But I’m getting better about taking it with me if there’s a possibility for photography, even if I think it’s unlikely.  Part of practicing photography is making the time and effort for it, and having your camera with you is a necessary and obvious prerequisite to making great images.

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |

Taking More Time to Do Less

Dusk in the Canyon of the Rio Grande, New Mexico

This is a lesson I’ve learned the hard way, many times.

One of the most difficult aspects of photography for me has nothing to do with cameras or darkrooms (be they the digital kind or otherwise).  Rather, it’s being in the right place at the right time.  This is especially true when traveling to a location I’ve not been to before or visited only infrequently.  I will do a fair amount of research on the area to create a list of locations that seem promising for photography.  This actually works pretty well, because when I arrive, I generally have a pretty good idea of the lay of the land.  It actually may work too well, because on more than one occasion, I’ve passed up perfectly good photographic opportunities in order to get to the next location on my list.  Invariably, I end up not only missing the opportunity I passed up, but also the opportunity I was hoping to have, because by the time I arrive at my listed location, the light will have faded, I won’t see a good composition, or any other number of problems crop up.

Not this time.  The image in this post, “Dusk in the Canyon of the Rio Grande,” was made on my way from one location on my list to another.  I had been photographing the San Geronimo church in Taos Pueblo, New Mexico, for an idea I’m trying to put together, and was on my way to the San Jose de Gracia church in Las Trampas, New Mexico to continue the project.  Driving on the Low Road in the canyon of the Rio Grande, I noticed this glassy sheen on the river as the sun was setting, so beautiful!  Beautiful, but there was no way there would be enough time to stop to photograph it and still make it to Las Trampas before dark.

So, Las Trampas will have to wait until another day, because I stopped to explore the opportunities before me along the Rio Grande.  That’s the thing about landscape photography, you can’t rush it.  If you try to fit in too many locations in a given time, the odds are you’ll come away with nothing at all.  It’s better to take more time and do less.

Lesson learned!

Posted in Uncategorized Also tagged , , , , |