Monday, June 30, 2014

bee's eye view

Years ago, a nurseryman in Santa Fe said jokingly that I was a penstemanaic, a person who loves penstemons.  And yes, I do love this group of plants that are part of the figwort family.  Paintbrush also belongs to this family, as do a wide variety of wild and now somewhat domesticated flowers.  Rocky Mountain penstemon is a deep blue-ish purple but when these plants occupy space with other species, their colors cover a broad spectrum, including fuchsia.  Recently, I found this one in the shade of a wisteria.  Given the brilliant colors of most penstemons, this almost qualifies as albino.

Here is a Rocky Mountain penstemon, up close and personal.

This genus of the flower world is gorgeous and beguiling, particularly to pollinators.  You can see why the flowers below, from a stalk of Penstemon palmerii, are particularly interesting to bumblebees.  They can fit their entire bodies inside "bumblebee garages", writhe wildly and come out entirely covered with pollen.  Here is a bee's eye view.

The flowing stripes on the palmerii petals is another example of nature's inspiration for abstract art.

From a pure photography standpoint, shooting this week presented some interesting challenges.  The wind blew a lot, moving the flowers every which way, but worse yet, when the wind wasn't blowing the no-seeums discovered me very quickly and began taking their fill of my blood.  Luckily, that part of the natural cycle ends when the monsoon begins.  

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Weaver's Dilemma

Talk to any artisan who weaves - whether the end product is apparel or rugs - and the one thing that is absolutely the bane of his or her existence is the process of warping the loom.  To a person, each would probably pay vast sums of money to have the loom warped and ready for the creative side of the process.  Thus, when a weaver warps the loom, it is warped for a number of pieces at once, eliminating the need to warp after every piece.  In my husband, Fred's case, he warps for roughly five rugs and a rifle scabbard or smaller piece.

Facing the loom and starting on the right hand side, Fred ties 184 individual strands of warp, 4 at a time, to the existing short lengths left after the last rug was removed, and measures from that point to a single point at the other end of the house, 42 feet away.  With the the warp just touching the side of the bed, it forms a catenary curve, making each length exactly the same.  They are already threaded through the heddles and reed, but are now strung the length of the house.  At this point, Fred carefully lays each strand on the floor of the house (and the loom) creating a "river" of wool.

Many weavers use a tool called a "warping board", but Fred finds his current system somewhat easier.  He is definitely accustomed to it after having warped his loom about 47 times, enough for the 277 pieces, mostly rugs, that he has produced in the last eleven years.

184 strands of warp, all 42 feet in length, is roughly 1.5 miles of warp.  That is what Fred loads onto the Rio Grande walking loom each time he warps.  The tough and "toothy" characteristics of Navajo-Churro wool makes it ideal for weaving rugs but the weaver's dilemma of warping is even more pronounced.  Each strand of the wool clings to any other piece in its proximity like Velcro.  The strands curl back and around themselves like pig tails.  Tying the strands is a very precise and exacting task, and the consistency of churro almost removes fingerprints!

My role in this?  I am the burro, holding half of the strands in each hand (forming equilateral triangles, as Fred likes to say) after they have been wrapped around my waist.  My job is to try to keep a steady tension on the warp while Fred winds the warp, amidst squeaks and pops, onto the warp-beam.  This is about the level of my expertise when it comes to weaving, since the geometry/geography gene is definitely not dominant in my makeup!  But what beautiful designs can be created by artists, like Fred,  who are lucky enough to possess it.  Here is his most recent rug #232, now living in Tyler, Texas.

Thanks to Connie Taylor, Julie and Ashley at Taos Fiber Arts, the folks at Tierra Wools and at Weaving Southwest, for giving and supporting Fred's love for weaving.

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, June 16, 2014

one Earth

There are so many things indicating we live in a closed planetary system, on one Earth.  Frequently people on one side of the planet will feel the effects of something happening thousands of miles away.  One spring several years ago, it was constantly dusty all over New Mexico and much of the brown dense dust was from western Africa.  On some moister than normal mornings, we frequently catch smells from large urban areas such as Houston or Los Angeles, depending on the direction of the wind. Last night, we smelled smoke.  Looking west, there was obviously a fire burning somewhere.  It is in the Four Corners area, near Assayii Lake and the community of Crystal on the Navajo Nation.

Wind is the key, isn't it?  I am uncertain as to whether scientists and researchers have the complete picture as to why, when, and where winds behave in the way they do, but they are getting close.  The springs winds that are almost constant in New Mexico contribute to the turnover of layers in any given lake, rejuvenating and mixing nutrients.

Why we are having winds into the heart of June is a question for the meteorologists, but the fact that cold fronts similar to those occurring in winter, are still effecting our weather in New Mexico.  And thus the wind is with us.  Normally, it is fairly calm in summer, with the exception of winds associated with thunderstorms.  I think it is safe to say that what we think of as "normal" is rapidly changing.  Into what, is the question.

This self-portrait shows how I both looked and felt on a similar windy day at Great Sand Dunes.

The horizantal grasses below are much more flexible than I am, holding on to their own in a much different way.

until next week,


a passion for the image

Monday, June 9, 2014


For much of the United States (and the world for that matter) last week was a wild ride, not only politically, but when it comes to weather.  Some areas had soaking and flooding rains as well as tornadoes and waterspouts, while others had scorching heat and relentless dust.  We had spits and spurts of rain, lightning and thunder.  The wind was our constant friend.  Despite it all, the lettuce and spinach in the raised beds are content and growing, and the tomatoes are doing their best, even with the low of 37 degrees Fahrenheit this morning.

This morning's blog is a reflection of the need to seek gentleness in nature.  I find these three images particularly easy on the eyes and soul.  The first is a shot of columbines near Taos Ski Valley.

I never tire of viewing grass collecting dew.

water lily at Sunrise Springs, south of Santa Fe

until next Monday,


a passion for the image

Monday, June 2, 2014

environmental portraiture

In 1994, I began the task of photographing people around New Mexico, initially as an environmental portraiture photography course project.  As I worked, it became quite obvious the images were taking on lives of their own, contributing to a body of work which eventually became A Place Like No Other:  people of an enchanted land, published in 2002.

In the beginning, I approached people I knew.  It was a much less painful way to give myself a firm kick in the rear to get started while I got my thoughts and objectives organized.  At that point, a leap of faith was required and I began contacting people who I thought would be good subjects, keeping my fingers crossed that each would be willing to work with a photographer who had no real reputation.  Quite a number of my scenics had been published in New Mexico Magazine, the Albuquerque Journal, the Territory Ahead catalog and Organic Gardening, but a full-blown Ansel Adams-Annie Leibovitz reputation doesn't necessarily follow that work.  It was a terrifying proposition.  But strange things started happening.  Every person I contacted (of roughly 150 people I photographed) with the exception of one, not only agreed to be part of the project, but offered other people they felt absolutely "needed" to be photographed.

Eli Brown, of Fairview and La Villita, New Mexico, was my first subject/victim.  He was a sweetheart and was extremely patient with me, while I worked around him with my 35mm Minolta.  Here is a scan of the photograph I chose for the book.

When I decided to embark on this type of environmental portraiture project again,  I chose a person with whom I knew I would be comfortable, and in turn was comfortable in front of a camera.  Bless his heart, Richard Spera agreed, and last week, we had a truly lovely session, in and out of overcast skies, at his guest house complex, Casa Gallina.

Many thanks to both of these gents for their willingness to work with me.  If you have thoughts about people who should be photographed, please email.  I am starting a new list!

until next Monday,


a passion for the image