Boots & Wurlitzer, 1977

Boots & Wurlitzer 1977

It was the summer of 1977 and we had moved from Albuquerque into our Santa Fe home – Susan, our 3-year-old daughter Melissa, and myself. Also along with us came our two dogs and one cat. We all settled into to our new lives here in the high desert. My studio and darkroom were set up and life was a marvelous dream living in the beauty of the landscape amongst fellow artists and friends. It was a time that was full of day-to-day adventures along with trying new and different things.

I was experimenting with photographic techniques and studying those I thought of as masters of the medium. I acquired Edward Weston’s daybooks and read it cover to cover. It was intriguing to me that he discussed diet and its affects on his mind and work. Susan had started us on a regimen of vitamins and health foods that I found did make a big difference in my physical and mental vitality. Almost daily Dr. Hook was on the car radio singing about getting his picture on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. It was a catchy tune that subliminally rested deep in my psyche from hearing it over and over.

The thought came of someday I might make a photograph for the cover of Rolling Stone. Still being a young man who liked to accumulate and drag objects, things, and all kinds of stuff home, it was a 1946 Wurlitzer jukebox that was acquired. Susan was most always fine with my random additions, but this one she approved of right away. It was a beauty and in mint condition, plus it actually worked! We found a special spot in our tiny living room and there it stood with its glowing bubble lights, shinny chrome frame, varnished wood, and cloth-covered speaker. Dr. Hook’s song kept playing on the radio and one day the image came into mind right after Susan had purchased some beautiful cowgirl boots. She was sitting on our fabulous Italian chair placed next to the Wurlitzer. With my small Leica I took some Kodachrome shots that became my early proofs. In my mind came the affirmation that this really would be a great cover for Rolling Stone. Next was to attempt a black and white with my Deardorf view camera. On the floor with a tiny tripod the set up was prepared, the model with boots on sitting in the chair, and the Wurlitzer was all lit up. The afternoon light that came steaming in across the floor was perfect!

I remember standing over the darkroom sink and seeing the film after it was first developed. An exhilarating feeling flowed in my veins. It was so wonderful to see that we can use our minds to see something and then make it happen. I had been juice fasting for about 3 days prior to making this photo. Mind, body, vision, and perception were very sharp. The realization came that this must have been what Weston was writing about. Diet does have an effect upon our work. And lets not forget Dr. Hook’s song playing over and over in my head. Why juice fasting? It was Susan’s idea as she had been reading about the benefits; she was and still is my health guru today.

The image became a hit. It did make different covers and went around the world in the form of thousands of posters; fine art prints went into museum acquisitions, and on to collector’s walls, but never on the cover of Rolling Stone. Perhaps I should have sent them one. Funny thing, I still hear from people who have been on recent trips and they tell me they see the old posters not only in towns and cities here in America but in the strangest of exotic and far off places.


Ranchos de Taos Church

The day was ending as I slowly drove home to Santa Fe. The stormy sky had brought a deluge intermingled with frozen rain and hail. A break in the downpour came as I was passing the village of Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico.

In the plaza there sits the San Francisco de Asis Mission Church which dates back to 1772. This church is one of the most painted, drawn, and photographed buildings in New Mexico. It is an elegant structure in both form and shape, crafted from the earth it sits on. Over the decades, I have probably passed by the Ranchos Church several hundred times. On some occasions I have stopped to admire and walk around, and at times have attempted to take photos. It is always worth the view as I pass by.

On this late afternoon as I turned into the plaza, the light became delicate and even, the sky above glowed softly with spirit, and the soil was rich in color from the rain revealing the soul force of the earth. At this moment it was my good fortune to have the plaza all to myself with not a single soul or creature around. It was time to make another attempt to capture the magic and splendor of this special place. The rain had slowed to a drizzle. With camera in hand I got out of my car. About 8 exposures into the process the thunder began to rumble, and the rains came. Returning to the car, I dried off my camera and myself, and sat in silence watching the light show in the sky above the church and listening to the rain. It was a sublime moment. Sitting there I began to contemplate the age and the antiquity of this spot. I remembered something my friend Rodolfo had once told me as we walked through the city of Rome. He explained how ancient civilizations are stacked up one upon another in his age-old city. It was all dust on top of dust. Contemporary buildings built on foundations of vanished structures from thousands of years ago. I began to wonder what was under the Ranchos Church and the history of this site. What cultures were here going back through time?

Back in the studio as I began to work, I pondered Rodolfo’s words and the perspective they brought to the experience of that stormy afternoon. I saw the space that filled the landscape flowing into the canopy of a dream like sky, and then beyond into the universe, and eternity. The design that is integrated into the soil of the church foreground is Anasazi, photographed from a water jar that dates back about one thousand years. I began to picture cultures, peoples, and time marching on, transforming what was once one thing into something now very different. And all of it merging, combining, vibrating into the present moment, and taking form with majestic beauty as the Ranchos de Taos Church.


Smoke Spirit Dancer

Smoke Spirit Dancer “And while I stood there, I saw more than I can tell, and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being.” Black Elk My family first came to New Mexico in the first half of the 1950’s. I was about 6 years old. It was a dusty and very foreign place to a kid from Florida. I still have lots of memories of those days.

When I was in my 20’s and living in Albuquerque my mom gave me a gift. She had found an Apache spirit bag in one of the last authentic trading posts of Old Town Albuquerque. She said the shopkeeper insisted that it never be opened. He said that the pouch had been imbued with magical charms and herbs by a medicine man to bring protection and healing spirit to its possessor. While holding the bag the objects inside could be felt and I would try to imagine what my fingers were feeling.

There was definitely a sense of energy. It has a necklace of fine red coral heishi stands that are attached to the soft beige leather beaded pouch which has leather fringe and dangling shells. Now decades later it has never been opened to this day. On a wintry morning this year a piece of burning incense had been placed into the bottom of one of my pueblo pots. The spirit bag was lying near the pot. I began watching the daylight piercing though the smoke rising and twirling skyward.

The vapor took the shape of a mystical dancer, almost ghost like. I started thinking about the spirit bag and the legend relayed from the shopkeeper. I wanted to know more about the pouch and was inspired to research Spirit bags. While in that process I came across some Native American quotes which led to the one above by Black Elk.

His words resonated with me. No doubt the world of spirit and the unseen forces were a constant factor in his life. Black Elk was what was known by his Oglala Lakota Sioux people as a wičh ša wakȟ ŋ, a medicine holy man. Most likely it was someone like Black Elk who assembled the spirit pouch my mom had given me. The thought of seeing the unseen inspired the making of “Smoke Spirit Dancer” For several days I waited with my camera set up as the morning light would pass through the rising smoke.

After days of trying, I became partial to one image that was captured. The spiraling plume had taken a form that seemed to be a dancer. The vision in my mind now needed a night sky and a sliver moon. The quest for those began and finally all were gathered and assembled over the months ahead. So here is Smoke Spirit Dancer, an homage to the great unseen mystery and dance of life we are all in


STARGAZER

Stargazer

In the Navajo culture a “Stargazer” is considered to be one of the Chosen Ones, a Holy Man, Healer, Mystic, one who would look into the sky and see beyond this world…The Valley: The breath taking view with it’s vastness unfolding into the cosmic sky is held in my vision and felt in my heart.

In complete humbleness this person stands before Great Nature’s display of Silence, Peace, and Calm. Forever the Earth is spinning, the Sun rising and setting, day to night, night to day. A dance of Creation before me as the stars swirl, the moon and comets all at play in the endless sky. The Light is bathing upon the majestic monuments in the valley.

At this moment the Transcendentalists come to mind. Nature being the teacher and healer for us all. When one stands alone before such awesome beauty it is impossible not to feel the connection with all of life. The Cuff Links: The day before coming into Monument Valley we stopped at a desolate trading post.

There they were in the case. A pair of cuff links, here in the middle of Navajo land. With further inspection the scene was that of the deep dark night sky, shooting stars, planets, all dazzling on the face of these small masterpieces of the silversmith’s elegant work.

I asked the native shopkeeper if there was a name for this style of inlay? “ Stargazer” she replied as her eyes met mine. . About to pull away, the car was abruptly put back into park. Cuff links? Would they ever be worn? Do I have a shirt for cuff links? Had to have another look. Now they sit in my felt lined box with other trinkets collected on this life’s journey.

These led me to my night in the valley looking up at the eternal scene. Inspired by the beauty of the Master jewelry maker, recognizing the lesson learned, and having a great feeling of appreciation for this precious moment. E. McD December, 2017


Just My Imagination Running Away with Me!

There comes a time that things just happen with little or no explanation. In all my years of taking photographs ideas just arise, sometimes they are crudely sketched out on paper, or they can remain as a constant background image that slowly develops in my mind.

They can become an exciting and emotional high. With the merging of Photoshop into my work the development of the notion that anything is possible (which I truly believe applies to everything we do, not just photography) can become a path to using imagination in an expanded way.

Images can be gathered and collected from all over, sometimes years apart. They can become pieces of a puzzle that have not yet taken shape or been assembled. As I worked on this image, what was so vivid in thought and form just could not be put into plain words. I would look at my computer screen, ponder, ask myself why and what is this and what should I name it? Then one evening while cooking dinner a song by the Temptations was playing in the background on the radio.

The song was Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me). I thought, WOW that is what is happening with me and this photo composite. So, thank you Temptations! I am borrowing your title. This composite is made of 3 images. The first is an old Victorian house on Hall Street in St. Joseph, Missouri. The second a shot of Christian Dior mannequins with different dress patterns on display at the Denver Art Museum.

Finally, the third is a set of curtains taken at the historic Callahan house in Colorado from outside the window while standing in the garden one evening.


Fleetwood, New Mexico - 1976

Fleetwood, New Mexico 1976

It was a beautiful early New Mexico morning in July 1976. I was living in Albuquerque and had become a bit more confident as a photographer from attending consecutive years of summer workshops in Yosemite with Ansel Adams.

I now had my own darkroom and had been supplied with the developing formulas from the workshops but was still deep into learning the art of photography. I set out at the crack of dawn to capture the image that had been pre-visualized and sketched out on my little pad. The camera of choice was my Hasselblad with a 50mm lens and in the car was my sturdy tripod, which I had ordered to be exactly as the one Ansel had last summer. My Dad once told me: “If you want to do something well then pick out a person with great talent and try to learn all they know and how they do it”. This was one of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me. I was behind the wheel of Leo Bartolucci’s incredible 1960 Fleetwood Cadillac hardtop coupe.

Leo was an older neighbor and a wonderful character. One day I saw him come home in the shiniest metallic lavender and most fabulous machine my eyes had ever seen. Jaw dropping! As he drove by he stopped and rolled down the window, looked at me with a big grin and said, “My wife is going to kill me when she sees this, but I couldn’t help it, I am a sick man”! Leo lived, and Mrs. Bartolucci, being a sweetheart, was happy for him.

One day while Leo was in his garage giving his “Jewel” a beauty treatment I told him how much I would love to photograph his treasure. He looked up and said, “Anytime, just come over and pick up the keys, take her for a spin”.

Oh boy, this was going to happen! Thank you, Leo!

I had picked up Her Majesty the night before. Now 5:30 a.m., Susan had my thermos ready and filled with coffee, gave me a kiss goodbye, sent me out the door, and into the cool morning I roared off in Leo’s masterpiece. This work of art had big horsepower under its long nose with a gleaming chrome grille bumper leading the way and in the rear those sleek aerodynamic fins following. The vision of my sketch was in my mind but now panic set in about where is the spot?

I headed in the direction of desolate Placitas, wound down graveled roads that just took off into the wide-open landscape. Sandia, a mountain with many moods stood in the distance. This was an angle I had never viewed Sandia from before. Suddenly, the road came to an abrupt end. I stepped out and walked around the Fleetwood, which had begun to look more like a space ship in the desert than an alluring auto from Detroit. Better give it a try. If I fail at least I tried. Setting up and looking into the viewfinder all was ready, and then feathery clouds came floating into the scene. They had not been in my sketch. As years went by it became a constant that in the moment something always greater than my original idea would present itself in the making of an image. Fleetwood, New Mexico was the first of many of these kinds of experiences to come in to my life as a photographer.

At home I cleaned and polished Leo’s lavender gem before returning it back into his care. Now, 42 years later, this recollection is a beautiful memory for which I am deeply grateful. The tribute and celebration of this moment came when The Center for Creative Photography took “Fleetwood, New Mexico” 1976 into their permanent collection. The Center, located in Tucson, Arizona is where Ansel Adams entrusted the life long treasury of his works.


Twilight, Maroon Bells , 2018

Twilight at Maroon Bells Lake

This spot is one of the most photographed places on Earth. Years ago I ventured here in the fall when the aspens are glowing as the sun rises. Getting up early to be there and see such an instant is worth it. However, as a photographer to my surprise I had to find a place to slot in at the shoreline, as there were at least 75 people with cameras and tripods waiting for the moment.

I prefer to not be in a sea of clicking shutters and for my photographic experience to be quiet and serendipitous. This is not always that easy to come by. However, this summer we had the chance to be here and have it all to ourselves. Visions of images still come to me and before driving up to Aspen; this idea was in my mind’s eye for several weeks.

The final image is never exactly like the pre-visualization, as Mother Nature always makes them better than what I can dream up. We went up to Maroon Bells Lake late on a July afternoon and took a picnic. Susan, and myself, along with our friends Paul and Peggy hunted and gathered before we set out to journey up. The picnic basket was filled with a small feast of cheese, bread, salami, and wine. We sat and looked at the landscape and its mirror image in the lake. There were a few people fishing, some hikers going by, dogs running, but to our surprise everyone just started leaving, it became quiet, and even more remarkable there were no mosquitos!

Our plan was to watch the stars come out and see the moon. The night before in town, Susan and Peggy saw a large shooting star rocket by under this same moon, only one-day earlier. It left them bedazzled and mystified. No doubt this was a special moon. I went down to the lake’s edge and looked into the crystal clear water and could see day reflecting and turning into night. While at the shore two deer appeared out of the woods up near our picnic set up. It was becoming a magical moment. I secured the camera on my tripod and began experimenting with exposures of lake, mountains, and sky. The hope was to capture the picture that had been imprinted in my mind. Doubt’s voice whispered, “Could it be done?” This voice is the enemy of creativity. I answer: “Who knows?” I have come to learn that the antidote to doubt and fear is intention and determination. If it doesn’t work this time then try again. I am grateful to be able to work at what I love doing.


“Room Service”, Carlyle Hotel, N.Y.C. 1978”

“Room Service”, Carlyle Hotel, N.Y.C. 1978”

In the early 1970's while studying with Ansel Adams I learned his technique called pre-visualization. A process of making sketches of images that had come to mind on a sketchpad and then going into the field to make them become a reality. The interesting thing is, when I would go into the field to make the photograph, the resulting image always turned out better than I ever even dreamed of in the sketch. There was always a feeling of it being some kind of mystical experience.

In 1978 while still using the pre-visualization technique a vision of "Room Service" came into mind. Immediately the idea was sketched out. It was so vivid, a beautiful setting of room service overlooking New York City. I said to my wife Susan we're going to New York because I've got to take a photograph and it's called "Room Service". My friend who was the director of Aberbach Fine Art on Madison Avenue helped me secure a room at the Carlyle Hotel which happened to be just across the street from the gallery. We arrived at the stately lobby and checked in with our luggage. To make the photograph I had traveled with my Deardorf 4 x 5, my favorite tripod, along with a lot of hope for what was about to happen. They showed us to our room and when the door opened, and we walked in to look out the window the view was a brick wall. I sat on the bed for a few minutes knowing this was not my vision, how I can ever make this photograph happen? There was only one answer go down and explain the situation. How many people go to the front desk in a hotel and ask for a room with a view. Ha Ha! Now at the front desk I told the manager, you have to understand I need a room with a view because I've come to New York City to take a photograph and it's called "Room Service", he looked at me like I was a crazy man. I went on to explain that I take photographs, and this is an image that I had a premonition of, and his help would be most appreciated. He took a moment and said let me see what I can do. We were assigned a new room that had a small corner balcony with a railing all around and a lovely view of the city. That railing was not in my sketch and there was no going back down to ask again. Somehow the magic occurred, and it all worked out.

That was back in 1978 when we took that trip. "Room Service" has been celebrated and enjoyed by many. It resides in museums and collections around the world. An unexpected surprise came when I received an email titled "Hello from the Carlyle.” Upon opening the email, it said that they were so pleased to see my photograph of "Room Service ", they had no idea that it existed and wondered how in the world they never knew about it. I went on to tell them the story written here. We had a nice chat ending with a beautiful large print of "Room Service" being made and shipped to the Carlyle Hotel where it now has returned home to the place it was created. I am very grateful to the Carlyle for finding me and for the miracle that occurred that day in 1978.