New Mexico

For reasons I cannot fully explain, I’m drawn to the American West. Maybe it’s the steady diet of westerns I watched as a kid (and as an adult, if I’m honest). Maybe it’s the stark differences between there and where I live in the East, the mountains and deserts and open skies that are alien to my daily experience. But whatever the cause, I find the pull of the place doesn’t go away no matter how many times I visit.

This trip was into uncharted territory: New Mexico. I’ve been to neighboring states – Colorado and Arizona – but this was new. As usual, I flew into an airport relatively far from my destination, allowing for a long drive to get a feel for the terrain and immerse myself in the place in a broad sense, rather than just dropping into an airport, a car, and a hotel right off the bat. The drive from Denver to Santa Fe, avoiding the interstate, took the better part of eight hours.

Photographers who’ve shot in New Mexico often talk about the quality of the light. As with anything that gets built up to near-mythical status deserves a healthy dose of skepticism, but having been there I have to say there is at least something to it. The hard, bright sun has a clarity and a directness that is really quite striking, and feels a bit different than what I recall from Arizona. I wonder if proximity to the major population centers of California introduces enough particulates to diffuse the light a bit more further west.

In any case, New Mexico proved to be a very interesting place the visit. Santa Fe, at least the old downtown area, was great for just strolling around, stopping off for a margarita (a proper one, not some cheap, frozen crap), and strolling some more. Out beyond the city there were places to explore between large stretches of very little: Los Alamos, home of the atomic bomb project during the war, and Abiquiu, where Georgia O’Keeffe made her home. The remoteness of both places, particularly in the years when their most famous occupants were present, is very much a part of their respective identities.

Thinking further about this sense of semi-isolation that is so much a part of New Mexico – the least the parts I saw – it seems the equivalent in photographic terms of negative space, the absence of information in parts allowing greater focus on the remaining points. The lack of clutter makes it, for me, a place where photographic vision comes a bit more easily than in others. This is a critical part of my understanding of New Mexico, and one of the reasons I look forward to going back and exploring it further.

On to the photos. I’m playing with a more thematic organization of these, so the selections in this an subsequent posts may end up being a bit irregularly sized.

2 thoughts on “New Mexico

  1. I am from CA but, like you, had the same experience in NM. Driving eastward, from the LA area into the desert toward the AZ border, it becomes clear – the light does change. In AZ, the light is wonderful; in Flagstaff the elevation allows for trees, but thinner air. Drives to Sedona and the Grand Canyon show this. Onward toward NM, and as if just crossing the border, the land is grand, wide open, the sky is vast and endless. There is a quality of light and land I have never seen anywhere else. It stays with you for the rest of you life.

    1. I was in Arizona – mostly around the Cottonwood/Prescott area – a few years back, and I did photograph some while I was there. It’s very good light, even in winter (I was there in January), but it reminded me more of southwestern Colorado than it did of New Mexico. Still want to go back in warmer weather and get up to Monument Valley.

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