Monday, June 30, 2014

narrative photography

... today's class: on narrative photography, advertising photography, and fantasy ... Our Intrepid Introducers sent us off in groups of three or four to construct a narrative image (think Jeff Wall, or Gregory Crewdson) and photograph it - which was terrific fun, and I just hope that the rest of the class learned as much as I did.  Actually I think I betray a dependence on Eileen Cowin, since I think there's some kind of gender critique and uncomfortableness going on here - although of course I'm not sure what.  And I'm even less sure after the rest of the class was let loose on each of our images.  Is he stealing the bike, or parking it?  Is the woman at the far end coming into, or going out of, the bathroom?  And what about that third disappearing figure - part of some uncomfortable triangle?

The other groups did wonderfully - two happy figures telling a story whilst sitting on a wall, whilst gesticulating - and a third turned the other way, excluded, maybe just wiping away a tear (it read as an allegory of outsiderness/popularity, and also of female body types, though none of us actually said that); a don't walk and text; don't drive and text scenario (something bad was about to happen there, but there wasn't much mystery there); and a great staged image - purse upturned on table with all the contents spilled out; woman with head in hands; man just disappearing up corridor.  Again, whatever was happening was both unclear, and wonderfully stimulating to the imagination.

So this is definitely something for my class next semester ... what I learned, above all, was how exaggerated gestures/poses have to be, even if you're trying to have everyone look ordinary; and also how much just emerges because of fortuitous circumstance (the presence of a bicycle, the positioning of doors).

Sunday, June 29, 2014

cripple creek

Cripple Creek is the old gold mining town on which the wealth of Colorado Springs originally grew - about forty miles away, by road - and now a strange fake late Victorian town (rebuild after its 1896 fire - but hard, in many places, to tell what's old, what new); with a wonderful museum that was established in the 1950s (and which these images don't do justice to, because it is an amalgam of mining memorabilia and social history of all kinds, but I've never been able to resist faking up faked-up rooms).  

Today was Donkey Derby day (though we left before the Big Race), which meant that there were many donkeys around, being fed donkey treats);

other entertainments like mechanical bull riding;

and then the ubiquitous casinos - this one has an especially splendid mock Victorian roof.  I went in to it to use the bathroom, which gave me ample opportunity to rearrange my camera with a lens concealed inside my shirt, and me shooting hopefully at waist height, squeezing it through the fabric (casinos SO do not like photographers).  I was very lucky with this ...

Saturday, June 28, 2014

navajo springs, the beverly hills motel and the annual metal horse

lots of research today, but some of it involved walking around Manitou Springs;

visiting late 20s/early 30s motels - this is a gem -

and saying our annual hello to this increasingly decaying - but still lovely (and I still wish I could rescue it) large metal horse ...

Friday, June 27, 2014

colorado springs's distinctive graffiti

Believe me, under many circumstances, I like Psalm 123 a lot: plenty of sheep, even if it's not as much of a favorite as Psalm 121, which used to give me a great deal of sustenance as a small girl (I repeated it endlessly, fervently under my breath when I was about 10, and at the pain-killer-free dentist - help had to come from somewhere, I figured).  But on a wall, in an alley just down from our hotel?  Colorado Springs is, indeed, the home to a great deal of fundamentalism (and, tonight, to Fan Fest - a great gathering of car enthusiasts prior to the annual Pike's Peak motor race.  We were sorry not to hang around for the firefighters' grand chile cook off, though maybe were less regretful about missing the daredevil motorbike jumpers).

I turned round from photographing the graffiti to find this woman trying to take her dog for a walk.  This was after a day reading about Colorado Springs' issues of Liberty Bonds in 1917, and before driving off to find where someone committed suicide (shooting himself in chilly February) in 1942.  We sure know how to have fun.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

back in the Springs

Back in Colorado Springs … where Alice is doing research.  It's strange to think that this is the nearest that I have in the US to an Ancestral Home - not one I very much want to claim, apart from the mountains, but I recognize, by now, that familiar sinking feeling of driving into a place, and knowing that, in a way - well, no, it's not in my blood, unlike Batley or Ossett, but that one's curiously and irrevocably linked to oneself, if only by marriage …  These thoughts are doubtless prompted by Luci Tapahonso's very moving reading the other night: no way can I lay claim to the spirit of ancestors, the spirit of land in this country.  And the spirit of Native Land is a bit iffy in connection to Ossett: 

… that's Providence Mill - the family shoddy mill - smoking away, around 1909, I think …)

… and, depicting more or less the same time, here's a recent mural, of the Colorado Springs and Cripple Creek Railroad, back in 1910 … back when the town was growing, and optimistic, and not desperately full of homeless meth addicts, and before - I think - Alice's grandfather had started too many of the practices that helped contribute to the Financial Scandal ...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

documenting work

Documentary, in class today, and those in charge of introducing sent us out to document life on campus (I love activities ...) - that was actually the easy part, since we then had to write a three part caption i) factual ii) telling the reader something that can't be seen in the image but that's totally relevant and iii) providing a quotation (real or fake).  So this is Mr Reyes, sanding down a pillar prior to repainting it; this is the table where I hold my office hours (so called) - that you couldn't know without me telling you.  If you blew the picture up, though, you could see that the table (very St John's!) has scratched on it - in ancient Greek - "eleutharios," or "free" - which I tried to turn into a nifty point, but failed.  Sometimes, the words that accompany documentary need to be pruned ... A quotation?  "It's going to be noisy," he warned me.  Which it was, but I actually work best with distractions...

... and ok, like lots of documentary, it's a fake, of sorts.  I didn't take it when we were sent off on safari: I'd taken it a quarter of an hour earlier (instead, I walked up the hill behind the campus and took pictures of the landscape seen through discarded green plastic drainpipes - strange land art).  What I learned, though, and what I'm stealing for next semester's teaching, is that writing captions is a tough exercise.  We all had to write captions for our neighbor's image, too - and that was much easier, since under such circumstances, one really can be inventive ...

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

santa fe style # 2

I dropped off Alice in the cool light of dawn for a flight to Denver - the first time I'd ever been inside Santa Fe airport, with its one check in counter, its one security checkpoint (and about eight flights in, eight flights out a day).  The last time that I was in an airport this small, I think, was in the Amazon jungle.  I couldn't decide whether this notice was sweet - certainly local style - or, in its way, terrifying. Happily she arrived safely, though I saw the size of the plane for the 8.30 flight to LA - I'll continue to drive to Albuquerque, thank you very much, or even 850 miles across the Mojave desert ...

Monday, June 23, 2014

santa fe cliché

Sometimes one sees a photo, waiting to be taken, in Santa Fe that screams CLICHE CLICHE CLICHE - like this top one.  An old pueblo building, with those vitas sticking out, and that ladder reaching up to the roof?  Maybe, if I'd cropped it differently.  Actually, it's my dry cleaners, which used to be a gas station, and is a head-on example of Santa Fe style.  The sky helps, too.

We were discussing photographic clichés of the West today in my Bread Loaf class - along with Marianne Wiggins's The Shadow Catcher.  All overlap with readings and themes in other classes I teach on Writing and Photography is entirely intentional, and yet made entirely different by a roomful of adults, almost all teachers ... So one of the two people introducing today - thank you, Anna and Crystal - introduced us to the interior of her casita (which, as someone else pointed out, is in its turn a double sign of the colonization of Santa Fe, both by the Spanish in the first place, and then by the tourist industry that wants this place to be Special ["In Albuquerque, we'd call it a small apartment."])

This is priceless!  The (ironic) heading and questions are Anna's - but the wall decor?  The bow and arrow?  The Curtis picture of the Canon de Chelly is perhaps just about permissible as local - but that image, on the left, of his Oasis in the Bad Lands, taken in South Dakota in 1905 - oh, the tackiness, the insultingness, of the homogenization of the Indian here ... it's just a perfect example of the marketing of the "exotic" here in Santa Fe, evacuated of all context ...

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Saturday, June 21, 2014

women's collaborative (and cropping)

Opposite my favorite Northern New Mexican restaurant (La Risa, in Ribera, and really one doesn't need to eat for several weeks after lunch there), is El Valle Women's Collaborative - very much a community venture, that runs a farmers' market, and a craft center, and has a gallery inside - supposedly, though I don't think it's ever been open when I've been there - and frankly, I'm just happy that there's still somewhere in the US that calls itself by such a name.

Yesterday when I was reading about Russell Lee, I was struck by his method in photo critique - apparently he would have students show their work (as projected transparencies) and then - with some large cardboard rectangles in his hand - ask them why they'd taken the picture - and then he'd show them, wielding the cardboard, how much better their image would be if they'd cropped it to emphasize that detail.  I don't know, here.  I both wanted the sense of this building, in place, against a stormy sky - and I just wanted the lettering, the art work, the pink plastic chair ...

Friday, June 20, 2014

driving home from the library

I guess it's kind of crazy to take it for granted that one makes a 150-mile round trip to the nearest good library once or twice a week, but it doesn't, in fact, take a great deal longer than a round trip to the Getty (on a bad - ok, a very bad - day).  And gas is cheaper here.  And these are the views on one of the routes back.

I'm very lucky that UNM has such a good Fine Arts library; and very lucky, too, that Russell Lee (whom I've been working on all through today) was the FSA photographer who made the greatest use of flash - and he took a huge number of pictures of New Mexico (not just the relatively well known Pie Town ones).  This manages to bring things all together ...

... however, there are 1,917 negatives of Lee's images of New Mexico in the Library of Congress holdings (and available on line) - photo research can take a long, long time ...

Thursday, June 19, 2014


Not the very best of images - but an extremely handsome hawk - I think a Cooper's Hawk - spotted on our morning walk.  I'm afraid that they make a practice of eating Little Birds around here (though I saw one of this pair, the other day, with a mouse in its claws, and it's very welcome to all that it can eat of them).  I suspect it of being perched on a rock at this particular moment because it was busy tearing off a head or swallowing entrails, but I can't prove it ... no corpse.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

another new mexican sky

Is the sky the only thing that I'm taking pictures of this week, you may well ask?  Seemingly, possibly, yes - but with good reason.  This one was up US84, by Gabriel's restaurant, and was tilting away from the Jemez mountains at a curious and fiery angle.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

evening storm

We're all hoping that it's true: that El Niño will kick in this year, and that we'll have proper rain (here in NM, and in LA) - there were two brief thunderstorms this afternoon, and five minutes or so worth of downpour - but that's good for June!  Yes, it is June - that tree's dead, not wintery (drought casualty, indeed) - but I find it hard to take it down: too many small birds enjoy sitting in it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

wind damage

... or so I presume: the wind's been blowing the past few days as though it's March.  And it seems improbable that vandals would decapitate a sign so neatly, and then prop it up on a soda can.  Eldorado tends to be more windy than neighboring parts of Santa Fe and surrounds, but it's been impossible to eat lunch outdoors without flying arugula.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

radio, radio (a fathers' day piece)

When Skyping with my parents this morning, I can't quire remember how we got onto the theme of radios, except we were talking about computers, downloading tv broadcasts, reception - and then the clarity of crystal sets.  I know that my father and his brother, Don, made their own radio in the early 30s, but on this occasion, he wasn't talking about that particular piece of technology, but about something else he remembered from that time - gas-powered radios.  Apparently gas came in from the mains; you lit it so that the flames came out of lots of tiny jets, which in turn powered a thermocouple.  No one would believe this contraption when my father later talked about it, until he met two men in a pub in the 1950s.  But I found evidence - and sent it him - that proved it wasn't a mirage ...

My mother, for her part, didn't exactly contribute recollection, since she was still in the womb ... but when her mother was seven months pregnant with her, my grandfather bought the first radio in Batley, and had all his friends round (not to my pregnant grandmother's best pleasure) to listen to the General Election results in November 1922.  I don't think that they would have been very pleased that Batley returned a Labor MP.

The interference in the picture of our own retro-style radio?  Moth's hind legs.

Saturday, June 14, 2014


Santa Fe Farmers' Market - looks like it's a slow day for selling tomato plants and pheasant feathers.  Find of the day, from my point of view?  Wonderful young fresh garlic, at the stage when the bulb is only just beginning to form.  I think that I predict an omelette in my immediate future.

Friday, June 13, 2014


This lizard on our back wall manages to look as though it's on the left hand page of an open but opaque book.  Since LucyFur was outside (under strict supervision, but still with predatory intent), I managed to persuade it that it really didn't want to end up as a kitty toy, and it moved.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

as ever, in Winslow

An unremarkable image, but it sums up what I always feel when staying at La Posada: if they can, in arid, windy Winslow make their gardens so beautiful, it's time to get more inspired (get a bigger water bill?) in Santa Fe.  I am so happy and excited that Allan Affeldt - who together with Tina Mion restored La Posada to its current glory - has bought La Castaneda in Las Vegas NM - older by just over thirty years than La Posada, it was the first, or the first main Harvey House railway hotel - I went into its yard some years back on the occasion of the Kerry/Edwards campaign train stopping there (! ah, the optimism ...) - and they are going to restore it to glory, using (I gather this good news from the article on April 21st in the Albuquerque Journal) only local - that is, local to Las Vegas -  craftspeople.  And he already bought, last year, all the old hand-painted furniture when La Fonda, here in Santa Fe, did its remodel - I'd been wondering what had happened to that.   Roll on 2015 ...

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

the open road

It's the same drive as this time last week - this time without Alice or cats, but with my car full of my books, and all the things that we forgot the first time around, and all the things that one brings that one really isn't going to leave, like five lemons.   I usually love driving these 800 or so miles on my own, because I do so much thinking - so much sky (which started to get interesting just on the last forty or so miles to Winslow).  But - cerebrally, nothing much happened.  Am I still exhausted from the semester, and just in wind-down mode?  Please tell me my brain isn't going to stay vacant …?

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


When I went to England, my herbs wilted and drooped and generally whined in a depressed kind of way.  I moved them - they now get watered when the window box does, since the drip system drips downwards - and they probably get a little less hot sun - and one of the best things about coming back to LA has been finding that they're flourishing (and indeed, that our plant sitter has been sitting all the plants very efficiently).  

Monday, June 9, 2014

breakfast at harry's

It's been very hard to drag myself away from New Mexico and back to LA, but USC business beckons.   So we had breakfast at Harry's Road House before Alice drove me down to Albuquerque airport, full of enough breakfast burrito to count as sustenance for the day.  I can only imagine that the awnings, out back, are colored to mimic the choice of red or green chile - or both together, Christmas.  After New Mexico, there seem to be a very large number of buildings in Los Angeles, and the descent to LAX revealed terrible pollution/low cloud/June gloom.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

wild flowers

After yesterday's storm, this is a very unspectacular image ... just testimony to the beauties on this morning's walk.  I've settled into being here in rural NM again - quiet, big skies, small plants - just in time to head back to LA (meetings, meetings).  The summer will begin sometime, won't it?

Saturday, June 7, 2014

the edge of the storm

This was the view from our front door this evening.  Golf ball sized hail up by Mora.  Ping-pong ball sized hail in Pecos, breaking windshields.  An inch of rain in Santa Fe.  And here in Eldorado ... even the Santa Fe New Mexican notes the fact that it didn't rain.  That is, we had maybe twenty or so large drops (after we'd put the car in the garage, and piled some pillows in the bathtub, because of a tornado warning), and that was that.  I know that we have many little microclimates around here, but that was ridiculous.

Friday, June 6, 2014

artistic cats

At the Museum of New Mexico this evening for the opening of Judy Chicago's Local Color: Judy Chicago in New Mexico 1984-2014 show.  Her ceramic cats are, sadly, a little blurred in this rendition (though who knew - unless you were privy, as we were, to the planning of the exhibition, that they would play, together with many graphic portraits of their compadres, such a starring role in the show).  All the same, they lacked the beauty of our very own Moth, happy to be back in New Mexico, and curled in a basket.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

pigeon at gas station

There's an obvious sequence here, but one I don't understand.  This pigeon watched me pump gas at Holbrook, Arizona: whether or not it was hoping for a half eaten breakfast muffin, or what, I didn't gather.  At least, today, there were no notices forbidding photography.  And clearly, said pigeon didn't care about the implications of my driving a car that had four cats on the back seat.

crow at gas station

The Chevron gas station at Ludlow, on I-40, has sprouted a whole lot of notices warning Absolutely No Photography on Chevron Property or in Store, which prompts me to check, at some future moment of procrastination, whether someone has posted to Flickr images of the grubby restrooms (in defense of the store, I've noticed that it's recently really improved its stock).  But why?  Because they don't want the crows immortalized?  There were a lot of predatory ones around.  Because a motorist knocked down a photographer?  Because it's a well known haunt of private eyes, looking for illicit assignations? Because nefarious transactions take place there?  Mystery, mystery - but not way can one say that things never change on our drive to New Mexico (something brought home when we rolled into Winslow, and the little white and red ancient cafe building opposite La Posada has been painted what I can only term Silver Lake sludge.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

early morning, LA

This is a counterpart to yesterday ... Moth and Walter birdwatching, and in the window box outside, an amazing display from the chiles that I've planted to fill in some gaps in the geraniums (now that we've reconfigured the window box watering, the geraniums are in fine fettle, too).

Monday, June 2, 2014

distant early morning

Days when I leave Wimbledon at the crack of dawn and end up in Los Angeles with half of the day still to happen are completely surreal.  Here's the kitchen at - look at the carriage clock - 6.10, in a dull light.  Many of these objects are dear to me - I'll single out, on the bottom shelf of te little shelves to the immediate left of the window, a Quaker Oats bowl, that used to be my father's breakfast bowl when he was little.  The shelves themselves belonged to Mary Taylor's family - she was the friend of Charlotte Bronte who moved to New Zealand.  Yorkshire connections ...

And then, at 6.20, I was touched when Simba appeared.  He doesn't normally get up this early - prefers to wait a couple of hours, until my parents are stirring (although, even more touchingly, my mother emerged to wave me into a cab ten minutes later).  But this morning was an exception.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

garage issues

I know that there may be People Out There who are skeptical about my ability to keep a garage and its storage spaces tidy, but I humbly submit that (a) this problem may be hereditary and (b) that at least my tools etc. don't look quite as bad as this.  Sure, there are plastic containers labeled things like "picture hooks" and "cup hooks," and I have no doubt that this is what's inside them.  And there are all those tobacco tins piled up on the left hand side of the third shelf down.  It's long, long mystified both my mother and myself why - when my father prides himself on neatness and organization - that whole sections of the garage look like this, or worse.  If I am guilty of keeping things "in case they might be useful," this takes the principle of just-in-case-ness to a whole new level ...