Saturday, May 29, 2021

Covid Respite #19 - Night Photography at City of Rocks State Park


                                                                            "My God, it's full of stars!"  -  2001: A Space Odyssey

Out on an empty plain in the Chihuahuan desert area of southwest New Mexico, about a 5-hour drive from Albuquerque, there's an unusual one square mile outcropping of huge rocks.  It's protected as a state park called "City of Rocks."

My friend, Bruce, wanted to visit the park to do some night photography because it is a "dark sky" site where the stars and Milky Way are much more visible than in an urban area.  So I tagged along for my Covid Respite #19.

From a distance, it just looks like a mess of rocks . . . which it is.  The rocks were formed about 35 million years ago when a very large volcano erupted.  Erosion over millions of years slowly formed the sculptured columns now visible.


But up close you can see that these are giant boulders and pinnacles, some reaching 30-40 feet high.  Here's our campsite:

We arrived about two hours before sunset, and after a quick supper of cold Subway sandwich (me) and Whole Foods chicken salad (Bruce), we began to scout for locations that would make good foregrounds to frame a starry sky and hopefully the Milky Way.

We had to reserve our overnight campsite a couple of weeks in advance, but fortunately the sky was clear, with just a few clouds out on the northern horizon, giving us beautiful "golden hour" and "blue hour" light before the stars appeared.

A couple of hours after sunset, the stars appeared:

You might be wondering how the rocks could be so visible in the dark:  starlight is bright, but not that bright.  The answer is that we had a first quarter moon setting in the west which provided a surprising amount of light on the landscape.  The Milky Way, however, was not yet up in the east.  So we went back to our campsite and snoozed for a few hours.

When we awoke a little after 4:00am, the Milky Way was directly overhead and the "galactic center" was visible above the southern horizon.  We scrambled to get our shoes on and our cameras and tripods set up, because in less than an hour sunlight scattered by the Earth's atmosphere would overwhelm the starlight.

Here's what the galactic center looked like at 4:30am:

At 4:58am it was fading fast with the light of the coming dawn:

Hungry and in serious need of coffee, after sunrise we packed up, grabbed a hot breakfast and coffee in Silver City, NM, then headed home.

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


Wednesday, May 19, 2021

Covid Respite #18 - San Carlos Cemetery

Cemeteries are among my favorite places to visit and photograph.  They are full of hints about the lives of the people who are buried there, and in New Mexico many are replete with decorations and symbols of remembrance that lighten the inevitable sadness that accompanies the loss of a loved one.

My recent visit to a local cemetery for this Covid Respite has a long gestation story.

As many of you know, I teach an introduction to digital photography class at the University of New Mexico Continuing Education department.  During the pandemic, of course, we've had to move the class online.

In the past, it has been a two-part class of two hours once a week, with a homework assignment in between.  But even before the pandemic, I had been toying with the possibility of adding a field trip (live, not virtual) to the course.  When the pandemic hit, that idea had to be set aside, but as things began to improve, I was able to restructure the class and include an in-person field trip for a class this spring.

The field trip was to San Carlos Cemetery, a large cemetery not far from Balloon Fiesta Park north of Albuquerque.

It's a classic New Mexico cemetery with a lot of dirt and weeds, poured concrete headstones or simple wooden crosses with names and dates scratched in by hand.

But many of the graves are decorated with flowers and mementos, from elaborate to simple:

And the decorations range from religious/spiritual to quotidian, sometimes on the same plot:

Eight out of the ten students participated in the field trip, including one (and her husband) from Santa Fe and one from Ft. Defiance, AZ,  in the Navajo Nation on the border between New Mexico and Arizona (a two and a half hour drive away).  That's what I call dedication.

We were there in the early afternoon on a typical New Mexico day:  hot, very windy, and mostly cloudless -- not the best conditions for great photographs.  But the goal was to give the students an opportunity to practice using their cameras and, with luck, to apply some of the things they had learned in the class.  I was there to encourage and consult.

The students made some good images, and it was fun to review them in the follow-up class session and see what they saw.  Here are a couple of examples:

Courtesy of Meredith Kent

Courtesy of Deborah Conlon

One student photographed a statue and I happened to get a picture of her as she was shooting it:

Courtesy of Kris Monaghan

Besides yielding interesting images, the field trip also serendipitously provided three images to illustrate how point-of-view (POV) can make a big difference in what an image communicates.

Among all the gravestones and decorations, I photographed a very large and colorful statue on one grave:

Here's how two different students photographed her:

Courtesy of James Padilla

Courtesy of Leslie Dietz

Note how the POV, as well as the placement of the statue within the frame, communicates something different in each image.

I'll close here with three images that tell a sad but perhaps redemptive story, beginning with the image at the top of this post:

On the cross, it says 

                                                                       Maria Duran

                                                         July 25, 1945  -  July 26, 1945

Nearby is a similar cross, with a similar inscription:

                                                                     Rosemary Duran

                                                          August 30, 1945  -  April 6, 1946

And next to that one, another:

                                                                 Antonette Dianna Duran

                                                            June 7, 1947  -  June 14, 1947

I'm not sure how these three are related, since Maria and Rosemary appear to be born five weeks apart, while Antonette was born almost a year later.  However, an online genealogy shows these three as children of Floran and Maria Duran, and gives Rosemary's birth date as August 30, 1944 (rather than 1945).  So it's possible that Rosemary's birth date on the cross is incorrect; if so, the birth dates make more sense:

            Rosemary:  August 30, 1944 - April 6, 1946

            Maria:  July 25, 1945 - July 26, 1945

            Antonette:  June 7, 1947 - June 14, 1947

But whatever terrible circumstances cut these lives so short, I am heartened that today, 75 years later, someone still remembers and cares enough to put flowers on their graves.

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