“Photography in Santa Fe.” A subject as big as the high desert in which I live.
Most people would date the subject back to at least Alfred Stieglitz, the lover of Georgia O’Keefe, who spent his summers lugging a view camera around Abiquiu back in the 1920s. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll find pictures by Timothy O’Sullivan, who was photographing the American West, including Santa Fe, while Louis Daguerre was still alive. You can’t go any farther back than that.
My own history dates back only six months, back to the time when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots ruled the NFL and Bruno Mars dominated the Top 40. Seems like yesterday, doesn’t it? Actually, it was yesterday. And it doesn’t seem like we’ll be getting rid of any of them anytime soon. Unless a freak halftime incident . . .
Ah, such fantasies. But when I turn back to the land of fact, I find that like Stieglitz, I come from New York, and like Stieglitz, I view the New Mexican landscape from the perspective of a New Yorker. Maybe that’s why the beauty of the surrounding landscape holds little photographic interest for me, while the squalid urban backdrop of Espanola—by most measures, as bad a slum as exists in this country—holds endless fascination for me. Would it too much of a stretch to say that Stieglitz was transfixed by O’Keefe’s naked body, but that the landscape left him similarly cold?
That’s a question for men more knowledgeable than myself. But I think that it is possible to divide the photographic world into those who choose landscape as a subject and those who choose people. I belong to the latter group, and the idea of shooting this mountain range or that canyon holds little interest for me. Strange. I’m as spellbound by the beauty around me as Ansel Adams ever was, but when it comes to making pictures . . . it seems like it has all been done before. What do I bring to the game that Adams and his followers haven’t already accomplished?
Which leaves me scanning the landscape for models, whether they are aware or unaware that a camera is pointed at them. And there the difference from New York is the most stark. In New York, people are in your face pretty much any way that you turn. That quality makes the city unlivable for many New Mexicans but it opens up many doors for New York photographers.
Since that door has been closed to me, and since I don’t have Georgia O’Keefe’s naked body to keep me preoccupied, I’m not afraid to say that I’m a little lost.
When I first arrived, I thought the pueblos were the most interesting story around, but plenty of people actually laughed at me when I said that I had written to the Governor of Pueblo San Ildefonso, asking for permission to take pictures on their ancestral grounds. The idea didn’t seem funny to me when I first arrived, but I soon learned why people chuckled at the very idea.
Another door closed. I’ve got a few more ideas that seem like their worth trying out, but like the landscape, they’re sparse, they need space and time to grow. And patience has never been my strong suit.