Photography—an art form a bit more than
150 years old—has a rich and varied history in New Mexico.
After the Civil War, photographers accompanied the many expeditions
which explored the Southwest. Major John Wesley Powell's exploration
in this area included photographer John K. Hillers. Timothy O'Sullivan
joined Clarence King's geological exploration of the 40th parallel.
Hayden's geological survey in 1870 included photographer William
Henry Jackson. It was these men's works which served as the keyhole
through which much of the world viewed the Southwest. And it
was due to the work of these early photographers that Congress
decided to set aside lands and create the National Park system.
Photographers have continually come to this
area. Adam Clark Vroman and Edward
S. Curtis, to name just two, came to capture how the people
lived, worked, dressed, and interacted with the geographically
strange environment. The tradition had continued. Over the years
such notables as Edward Weston, Willard Van Dyke, Paul Strand,
Henri Cartier-Bresson, W. Eugene Smith, Laura Gilpin and Ansel
Adams have all been pulled toward New Mexico as a place of artistic
creativity. It was in Taos in the early 1930s that young Ansel
Adams met Paul Strand for the first time. During that afternoon
Adams made his decision to pursue photography, not music, full-time.
To Eliot Porter, writing in his book The Southwest:
The stimulation of thin air; the intense blueness of
the sky; the towering thunderheads of summer that ramble and
flash and produce sheets of rain with a sudden rush of water
that soon passes, leaving only a wet arroyo to dry within an
hour; the quick change of climate, from burning dry heat that
allows no sweat to wet one's clothing to a shivering cold during
the rainfall; these are among the attributes of a land that gets
into one's blood and bones.
Noted historian and photographer Beaumont Newhall pointed
out in the introduction to a Southwest photographic portfolio:
Recently an increasing number of photographers have
chosen Santa Fe as their permanent residence and as a base for
their excursions throughout the state--and the world. The reason
for this seems to me to lie beyond the lure of the picturesque
scenery and the outward charm of Indian pueblos and dancers,
also thoroughly recorded in past decades. To the creative artist
Santa Fe is a place where life can be both pleasant and stimulating
and where the spirit can be renewed.
A newcomer should go into photography collecting
slowly, step-by-step, until the taste buds begin to be activated
toward certain photographers. One of the mistakes newcomers often
make is to walk into a gallery, look at what's on the wall, and
then walk out. They think they've seen everything. Chances are
that drawers of photographer's work are available to anyone interested
in seeing more. If it's a particular artist's work your interested
in, ask to see more, to see a resumé. By familiarizing
yourself with each person whose work you collect, you'll be better
able to monitor their development over the years. And through
this level of immersion will come a more discerning and appreciative
Collectors of photography increasingly follow
the pattern found in other fields, namely, concentrating on one
area or one school. The rising prices for rare prints make broad-based
collections of first-quality images harder to afford.
If you are interested in photography purely
as an investment, vintage images and works by well-established
artists will be a primary focus. But if potential financial rewards
aren't of paramount importance, the work of young artists should
be sought, although steady nerves and a strong conviction of
one's aesthetic judgment are needed. The rewards, in time, could
be a pace-setting collection that grows in value and esteem.
Today in New Mexico there is an unparalleled
opportunity to examine a wide array of images by scores of artists
while personally enjoying the atmosphere and ambience of the
Southwest so exquisitely captured through photography.
By David Scheinbaum of Scheinbaum & Russek,
(private dealers in photography located in Santa Fe.)
Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos- Volume