Strangers and Texture on Canyon Road


Kongo is in Santa Fe attending a National Geographic Expeditions Photography Workshop this week.  Today he spent the morning and early afternoon in the classroom reviewing what goes into making a truly good photograph, helpful reviews of things like the “rule of thirds,” the geekiness of dangling lens caps, the inter-relationships between f-stops, shutter speed and ISO settings, and how to approach strangers on the street to take their picture.  In the afternoon we headed out to Canyon Road, the famous artsy stretch of Santa Fe inhabited by galleries, artists, poets, sculpture, and a lot of characters all of whom came from someplace else.

Our assignment was to take a picture of a stranger and then photograph things that depicted the texture of this area.  Kongo does not like taking pictures of strangers up close and Joe McNally, our NatGeo photographer leader, really wanted us to get in close and take a LOT of pictures.  Like maybe 100.  After this afternoon Kongo understands why.  One or two pictures simply aren’t going to work unless you just luck out.  You have to get your subject comfortable  with a camera in their face, persuade them to move to better light, get them to look natural, and have them loosen up a bit.  You have to bond with them.   This is an area the monkey is going to have to work on.

Blue trim against adobe is a popular theme in Santa Fe.
Blue trim against adobe is a popular theme in Santa Fe.

Canyon Road tries to be the cultural heart of Santa Fe.  Georgia O’Keefe lived here in her later years when staying at the Ghost Ranch in Abiquiú became too much for her.  Other artists and writers have settled in this area and the windy, narrow streets are lined with art and sculpture galleries, quaint little restaurants and bars, and adobe-style dwellings.  There are about 100 art galleries here.  Some are better than others.  While art is a deeply personal thing (it either speaks to you or it doesn’t) Kongo can’t imagine that anyone actually buys some of this stuff at the very, very healthy Canyon Road sticker prices, and plunks it on a wall in say Duluth or Gainesville.  What works in Santa Fe may not do so well in the harsher light of some other cities in the East.  Now the monkey has bought art here before.  Years ago Kongo was going through his Evelyne Boren phase and collected several of her works, including a fetching watercolor found in a Canyon Road gallery.  It didn’t survive the Eastern Exposure and now sits patiently in the monkey’s attic, pushed aside by Peter Max, Leroy Neiman, and Tarkay.

Did the monkey mention it was raining?  A cold, grinding, relentless heavy drip that soon left water running down your face, across your camera lens, and down the back of your neck.  Joe McNally and our course assistants wisely waited for their charges in the colorful bar at El Farol while the rest of us desperately went in search of strangers and texture.  Even a visitor from Rhode Island would surely realize this was not a good day to be traipsing down  Canyon Road and that experimenting with depth of field using various tequila bottles behind the bar in some quaint spot could be a more enjoyable endeavor.  I am sure this was some sort of hard life lesson we were supposed to learn that photographers have to be tough (and wet) to get the good shots.  Everyone you came across apologized for the rain and said it was very rare.  Kongo already knew that from many previous visits to Santa Fe.  It didn’t make him any less wet.

Kongo's stranger.
Kongo’s stranger.

The macho guy above was Kongo’s effort on the stranger.  He was directing traffic while colleagues were tearing up the road for a gas line and saw me taking pictures and posed.  The monkey couldn’t really talk to him because there were cars he needed to watch and there was a lot jack hammer sounds in the background.  In any event the monkey was sure there was some sort of bond developing and the guy did look pretty much at ease.

Kongo did chat up another lady, someone who had moved from “New YAWK” two years ago because it was enchanting here.  (The New Mexico state motto is Land of Enchantment).  She blushingly agreed to have her picture taken and Jim, her husband, was all for it, commenting on her smile, how they had been married 38 years, wasn’t she a beauty and then he posed the question:  “Doesn’t she look like good peasant stock.  This is how an Italian peasant is supposed to look!”  Seriously?  I mean how are you supposed to answer a question like that?  Kongo assumed it was rhetorical and hid behind his camera lens and just kept clicking but by this time the enchanted lady’s glasses had fogged up and the light wasn’t going to get any better regardless of where the monkey persuaded her to move.

Frankly there weren’t many strangers to approach with all the rain so the class had to improvise. One lucky guy from India who was clearly comfortable in monsoons and was wearing a funky outfit that reminded the monkey of a British Revolutionary War uniform and had a  Che Guevara look about him was serially ambushed by the glass up and down the street.  The monkey is sure he was from LA.

A sign near this horse indicated it was the largest equestrian head sculpture in New Mexico. Maybe West of the Mississippi. It was probably better than being the biggest equestrian ass in the same neighborhood.
More texture. The sun had come out by this time so it was nice to actually see a shadow or two.
Kongo was trying to tell a story with this photograph of a sculpture of two women. It was supposed to evoke the wetness and misery of this assignment. Notice the dripping water?
Strung chili peppers hanging on an adobe wall. Depth of field was not a problem here, obviously. These strings are a symbol of hospitality in Santa Fe.

So tomorrow our photographs get reviewed and critiqued and then we’re off to a movie set made up like an old western town.  Images of Clint Eastwood are dancing in the monkey’s brain.  Sunshine is predicted.

Travel safe.  Have fun.

3 thoughts on “Strangers and Texture on Canyon Road

  1. Kongo is right about all of those observations! You know, of course, that the sunshine brings high temperatures. It was 100 degrees when we were climbing over black lava rocks photographing petroglyphs. Whew. Our favorite place to buy pottery is actually west of Albuquerque at Acoma.

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