Saturday, September 25, 2010

End of summer: photos to celebrate the unique light of Taos

In my August 28th posting, I mentioned Ansel Adams and his book titled Taos Pueblo (1930). Harvey Stein's workshop at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House got  me thinking about photography and about the lineage of art traditions. As I worked to finish this post, I still needed an Ansel Adams photo. My husband remembered one of him by local Taos photographer Chuck Henningsen. I visited with Chuck and he gave me permission to use his photo of Ansel Adams set in Yosemite. Ansel Adams was a remarkable man -- master photographer, and a generous mentor and teacher to thousands of students. Here's how he got his start...

Ansel and the Range of Light by Chuck Henningsen, © 2010
A decision to photograph Taos Pueblo in collaboration with author Mary Austin brought Adams to Taos in summer 1929. A guest of Mabel's, he met Georgia O'Keeffe and Rebecca Strand, both connected with New York's Stieglitz circle of modernist painters and photographers. When Adams returned the following summer to work with Austin, he found Rebecca and her photographer husband, Paul Strand, staying at Mabel's. Paul Strand's photos conveyed a luminosity and clarity that Adams did not believe a camera capable of capturing. After seeing Strand's work. Adams abandoned a potential career as a concert pianist to become a photographer.

That kind of mentoring is still happening at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House. In late August I met seasoned New York photographer Harvey Stein, who offers an annual workshop at the Mabel Dodge. It occurred to me that it would be fun to feature snippets from his class. I wondered why Harvey chose Taos. (He has a book of New Mexico photographs in the works.) The answer came in his workshop raison d'etre:

       New Mexico has been described as a place of inviolate, pristine
       beauty, engendering an almost spiritual feeling for the land and
       the overwhelming sense of peacefulness. Since the 1880's
       photographers and artists (Georgia O'Keeffe, Paul Strand, Ansel
       Adams, Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter) have been irresistibly drawn
       to the incredible landscape, brilliant clear light, and rich
       Native American heritage.

For over three decades I have dealt with why Taos attracted painters; it was refreshing to get a photographer's take on this region and its particularities. I also learned from Harvey that part of the adventure--besides coming to grips with the brilliance and ephemeral qualities of light and atmosphere in northern New Mexico--would be to explores the diversity of our area. He arranged for a van to transport his students to the peaks of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, to the depths of the Rio Grande Gorge, to sites and sights around Taos, to neighboring villages, traveling as far as Santa Fe, Ghost Ranch and Georgia O'Keeffe country, with the cliffs and hills around Abiquiu.

I asked Harvey if his students might be interested in showing their work. He sent out a call for photos to his students. Three of them responded, their photos and comments in response to the Taos area follow.

Lonely Landscape by Carly Blake Sebouhian, © 2010

As soon as I arrived at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, our home away from home for our photography workshop, I knew the week ahead was going to be exactly what I had hoped. The peace, quiet and beauty that surrounds the house is just what I need to find the creativity that I feel sometimes gets buried in the chaos of New York....I found everywhere we went to be so different, and loved trying to capture the feelings and emotions of each place in my photographs. -- Carly Blake Sebouhian

Taos Pueblo Crosses by Jonathan Blum, © 2010

I’m not used to desert-like environments, and being in those spots really made me think about scale, and how, in terms of scale, we (people) are so insignificant in comparison to the natural world in which we live. -- Jonathan Blum

Rio Grande Gorge by Mort Sheinman, © 2010
   I can't really define the spirit of Taos and the feeling of being at the Mabel Dodge Luhan House, but I know this. Whatever it is that's special about the place -- and it is a special place -- helps unlock my creative urges. -- Mort Sheinman

This subject seemed fitting as summer ends with the fall equinox, and the light changes. I hope that you have enjoyed these photos as much as I have. It's wonderful to see the lineage of photography from Ansel Adams in 1930 to Harvey Stein's students seventy years later.

The response from Harvey and his students has inspired me to feature other workshops across the creative spectrum in future postings. It's good to know that the same qualities that attracted the early painters and photographers to Taos continue to lure creative artists to our area -- and to the Mabel Dodge Luhan House.

Adios for now,


Photos courtesy of Chuck Henningsen, Carly Blake Sebouhian, Jonathan Blum and Mort Sheinman

1 comment:

  1. Once I visited, enjoyed Mable Luhan House, participated in a Natalie Goldberg Workshop, walked in silence, trying to take in the big sky, and land surrounding. The student photographers captured the feeling I had. Waking 4 a.m to go to the desk in the main house, swatting what I thought were flies, turned out to be snow flakes. Astonished I walked though white silence, a first for this southern CA raised native, to the desk to do my morning journal writing, long before others awoke, more silence, looking out on the white patio. What a blessed place. I long to return.