Thursday, March 29, 2018

Plaza Blanca in Black and White

One of Georgia O'Keeffe's locations for painting is not too far from her house and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico.  It's called Plaza Blanca, due to the light colored cliffs and hoodoos in the area.  I have photographed and blogged about Plaza Blanca before; you can read it by clicking here.

In early February I went to Plaza Blanca again, this time with two photography friends -- Alan Postelnek (from Albuquerque) and Pat Miller, whom I met on a Road Scholar photo trip (vacationing from winter in Michigan).

The day gave us blue sky with a few streaky clouds and brilliant sunshine, and we were there in the late morning -- not great conditions for anything but postcard-like images.  

So after looking at my images from the trip, I decided to convert some into black-and-white . . . and I'm glad I did.  It turns Plaza Blanca into an other-worldly landscape.

You enter Plaza Blanca by walking down a hill to a wide arroyo. 

On both sides of the arroyo are cliffs, hoodoos, and other weird-looking geological features.

These next two images look like something out of Mordor . . .

I liked these round rocks . . .

And with black-and-white I can highlight the cloud action . . .

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lunar Eclipse at the VLA

Very early in the morning of January 31, about 90 minutes before dawn in New Mexico, the earth passed directly between the sun and the moon, and the moon was in full shadow for over an hour.

To photograph this event, my friend (and former PBS colleague) Bruce Shah and I thought it would be cool to shoot from the grounds of the Very Large Array (VLA) of radio telescopes in central New Mexico.

(If you are not familiar with the VLA, click here for an overview post.)

Bruce and I visited the VLA a couple of weeks before the eclipse to scout out positions for capturing the moon and one of the antennae in the same frame.  After driving and walking around in the areas that are accessible -- most are fenced off -- we found a spot we thought would work.

After that, we made a few images of interesting scenes with the antennas and drove home.

Fifteen days later, on the evening before the eclipse, we returned to the VLA in hopes of getting some shots of the full moon rising in the east.  No such luck -- clouds all over.  

But looking west we were treated to an awesome sunset.

And just before it dipped below the horizon, the sun found a tiny window in the clouds and illuminated the plains for about 90 seconds with an amazing golden light:

There was still enough color in the west for a few more shots . . .

. . .  then it was over and we packed up for the night.

The next morning we arrived at the VLA around 4:45, and it was COLD:  7 degrees!  For over two hours we alternated between shooting and jumping back in the car to warm up.

Most of my images of the moon were out of focus, due to the difficulty of drawing focus with shivering hands and body, so I'll include only one.  But you get the idea:

I was able to get a few shots of the moon and a portion of an antenna (as you saw at the top of this post), but it turned out that, although we were probably a quarter of a mile away from the antenna, we were too close to get the moon and entire antenna in the same frame.  Live and learn.

As the sun came up, the moon faded, but there were still a few images to be captured . . .

If you would like to view these images in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.


Monday, March 12, 2018

Bless Me, Ultima

Last month our local opera company, Opera Southwest, produced the world premiere of a new opera based on the novel Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya.  It's a beloved coming-of-age story set in rural New Mexico in the mid-1940s.  

Opera Southwest asked me to be the official photographer for the premiere, including a dress rehearsal as well as shooting some off-stage rehearsals and publicity photos.  I have photographed many operas for OSW over the past four years, and I was honored that they trusted me to capture this one for the record.

Photographing an opera is simultaneously a blessing and a challenge.  It’s a blessing because I’m shooting trained actors (singers) who know how to communicate emotion with their gestures, facial expressions, and body language as well as with their voices.

But it’s a challenge for me as a photographer because the event is happening in real time – no stops, re-starts, or do-overs unless the conductor says so.  People are moving all over the stage; the lighting changes frequently; and I have to be in the right place at the right time with the right camera settings to capture the moments.

The story of Bless Me, Ultima centers around an adolescent boy, Antonio, who is trying to figure out his destiny.  

His parents argue about his future:  his father wants him to become a vaquero; his mother wants him to become a farmer or a priest.

Into this conflicted household comes Ultima, a curandera -- a healer who uses herbs and traditional folk remedies.  

Ultima also has an owl who is her spirit guide.  

Antonio confides in Ultima, and she begins to teach him the ways of the curandera and the power of the natural world.

Meanwhile, the adults are having troubles of their own.  A soldier returned from World War II with PTSD (which was not well-understood in those days) has freaked out and killed another man.  A group tracks him down and, over the protests of Narciso, a peace-maker, kills the soldier. 

Antonio witnesses the murder and is traumatized.

Elsewhere, three daughters of the local barroom owner, Tenorio, practice evil rituals in the woods, 

and put a curse on Antonio's uncle (his mother's brother), who falls ill.  

When standard medicine fails, the family calls on Ultima to save him.  

With her owl spirit guide nearby (now portrayed by a singer), she cures him . . . 

but Tenorio turns the people of the town against Ultima, claiming she is a witch.  Tenorio leads a mob to Antonio's home to confront Ultima; Antonio's father blocks his path.  

Antonio's father fights with Tenorio; Narciso, the peace-maker, breaks it up and tries to de-escalate the situation, but is shoved aside.  

Ultima summons her owl to attack Tenorio.  

The owl gouges out one of Tenorio's eyes . . .

and the mob disperses.

Days later, one-eyed Tenorio confronts and shoots Narciso for intervening.  Antonio witnesses this, too, and Tenorio tries to kill Antonio, but his pistol jams and he runs away.

Narciso, dying, asks Antonio for absolution.

Antonio, once again traumatized, has a dream or a vision in which Narciso and the murdered soldier are resurrected, and Ultima's owl explains how chains of events go beyond any individual's control.

The next summer, Antonio is sent to work on his mother's family's farm, in hopes that his spirit will be restored by participating in the simple life of the farmers.  The community is full of life and joy.

In an aria, Antonio reflects on all that he has experienced.

Upon returning home, Antonio sees Tenorio once again out for revenge against Ultima . . .

and Antonio warns Ultima.  Ultima knows this is to be the culmination of the chain of events that began years before, and she reflects on her own destiny.

Tenorio arrives at night, armed and alone . . .

and Ultima summons her owl again, but this time Tenorio shoots the owl, which spells death for Ultima.  

Simultaneously, Tenorio is killed by a neighbor:

Antonio is heartbroken and cradles the dead owl, 

then asks Ultima to bless him before she dies, which she does.  


The opera -- music and libretto -- was written by Héctor Armienta, a Mexican American from California who longed to bring the novel to the operatic stage and worked for years to obtain the rights.

Photo courtesy of Héctor Armienta website

Narciso was sung by Javier Ortiz.

The Owl was sung by José Luis Muñoz.

Antonio’s mother and father were sung by Carelle Flores and Javier Abreu.

Tenorio was sung by Carlos Archuleta.

Antonio was sung by Daisy Beltran, a 15-year-old Albuquerque girl making her opera debut.

Ultima was sung by Kirstin Chávez, an Albuquerque-born versatile and veteran singer.  Her singing and stagecraft were wonderful.

The stage director was Octavio Cardenas.  

The orchestra conductor was Guillermo Figueroa.

If you would like to see these images -- and many more -- from the opera in a larger format, please visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here.