My recent trip to New Mexico was very special. I met someone who helped me see the amazing landscapes of this state with different eyes.
I traveled there with the idea of getting to know the beautiful town of Santa Fe, but returned with the colorful rocky landscapes painted on my skin. Who would have thought I would end up visiting the places that Georgia O’Keeffe, the pioneer of American Modernism, captured in her paintings. My encounter with breathtaking landscapes such as Plaza Blanca (White Place), Ghost Ranch, Black Mesa, and the Chama River were possible thanks to the generosity of a wonderful man who offered to be my guide. We met at the New Mexico Museum of Art. There he gave me an interesting lecture on the art pieces of the museum, including paintings by O’Keeffe of the astounding places we would visit and contemplate right the next day. He did not know that his keen eye, knowledge and kindness would indelibly mark my life.
That person was the photographer Lee Manning, who now I’m privileged to count among my friends, with whom I share my passion for travel. He wrote this article for Azul Tourquesa. I hope you enjoy it.
When discovering all that is New Mexico, we also discover our own free spirit.
Artists began arriving in New Mexico in the late 1880’s and early 1900’s. They were actually part of the American Modernism movement which included many abstract artists trying to establish themselves with this brand new opportunity which allowed them to be free to paint and exhibit whatever they wanted…out of the ordinary style of painting.
Although this movement was not well received by many traditionalists, it became very popular through the 1940’s. They began to tell artists back east about their discoveries: that special New Mexico light; the shapes and formations of the unbelievable landscapes; the layers and colors of the rocks; the unique cultures and life styles of the oldest people in America…the Native Americans and the Hispanic of Spain and Mexico; the fresh air in the high desert; the freedom to paint and to change their painting styles to match their changing personalities.
Many artists loved it and stayed. Many couldn’t handle the wide openness and challenges of a new kind of life…a pioneer life… and returned to the east.
I got out of my own way and let myself see and feel the many contrasts in this state.
Nine years ago I was one of those artists. I am a black and white, film and darkroom photographer, not interested in pursuing digital work. I am one who stayed. Because I discovered a new life. I got out of my own way and let myself see and feel the many contrasts in this state. The rough landscapes of white, purple, and red rock formations just dared me to walk in them. The smooth and sensuous landscapes of White Sands presented a contrast to the rough harsh landscapes. Both allowed me freedom to create my work.
New Mexico’s high altitudes of 13,000 feet where ski slopes and hiking trails abound, and the low altitudes of around 3,000 feet where cattle graze, and red and green chilies are grown next to pistachio groves and many tasty wines are produced offer many varied discoveries. Coyotes, elk, deer, buffalo, and antelope really do play.
Ghost towns stand empty where once thousands of gold, silver, coal, and turquoise miners lived in the 1800’s and 1900’s. Sacred pueblo ruins where thousands of true Native Americans lived 400 years and thousands of years ago still stand. I walked through these with chills running up my spine.
Weathered textures on surfaces … make a viewer start seeing the world through quite different eyes.
Every time I walk the high deserts, I discover what could be considered threatening worlds, but I see them as challenging, or abandoned life styles. An old car, one lone tennis shoe, a sand covered manual for a car repair, barbed wire where there is nothing to fence in. They play games with the mind.
Weathered textures on surfaces and people create an expected art forms that make a viewer start seeing the world through quite different eyes.
Pueblo Indians today live with each foot in a different world: The regular go-to-work-come-home world and the preservation of their traditions through regular dances that include all ages of participants.
New Mexico skies are full of drama, its trees offer solace and beauty, and the waters offer moments to reflect. Peaceful scenes are found in the grasses with their own style and shape, and a cemetery on a snowy day.
It’s so incredibly inspiring to be in a place that allows the spirit to run free. When discovering all that is New Mexico, we also discover our own free spirit.
Lee Manning is a black and white photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. You can see his amazing work at leemanningphotography.com