Collecting Photography of the Southwest

This land gets into your blood.
Photographers have known this for decades.

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Trofimuk Vista

Nicholas Trofimuk
"Variation on a Theme"
Limited-edition silver print
Courtesy of the artist and
A Gallery of Photography

The Southwest is a land of intense beauty. The surreal quality of canyon walls and desert floors, the immenseness of space with a horizon that seems never to end, the sheer mesas and incredible rock formations—all combined with the many-faceted cultures and peoples of the Southwest—have enchanted and called out to many photographers and artists, making New Mexico one of the photographic centers in the world today. In addition to being attracted to New Mexico's natural and sociological richness, photographers have also been drawn here because of the light. Charles Lummis, photographer and writer, described it this way:

"a photographic light to be matched in no other country . . . it gives cameos of definition, wonders of detail, and a real revelation in the antithesis of light and shadow, vigorous without becoming violent."

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.

Why the Southwest?

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.

Where to begin

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 eye.


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, Ltd
(private dealers in photography located in Santa Fe.)

Originally appeared in
The Collector’s Guide to Santa Fe and Taos
- Volume 2

Related Pages

150th Anniversary of Photography article
Alternative Process Photography article
E.S. Curtis: The Shadow Catcher article

Glossary of Photography Terms article
New Mexico: Photographer's Eden article
Photography in New Mexico article
Platinum Photography article

Collector’s Resources

Looking at Appraisal altgif Feature article by Philip Bareiss |


The Albuquerque Museum | 505-243-7255

Elsewhere in New Mexico

Corrales Bosque Gallery | 505-898-7203

Santa Fe

Arroyo rem | 505-988-1002
Kat Livengood Studio |
The Johnsons of Madrid Galleries of Fine & Fiber Art | 505-471-1054
Robert J. Kelly rem 229 Camino Del Norte | 505-983-3590
Ronnie Layden Fine Art Gallery | 505-995-9783
The Rainbow Man | 505-982-8706
Sherwoods Spirit of America | 505-988-1776
Vivo Contemporary rem 725 Canyon Road | 505-982-1320
Windsor Betts Art Brokerage House rem 136 Grant Avenue | 505-820-1234
Winterowd Fine Art | 505-992-8878


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