New Mexico in Monochrome
Although I have resided in California since the late 1970s, I have a deep penchant for the great American Southwest states of Arizona and New Mexico. As many of my friends know, my affinity for Native American Indian art and culture runs deep, and I love to explore the abundance of historic ruins contained within these spectacular states. Before I converted to digital photography in 2005, I shot 35mm film for many decades with a variety of Nikon SLR cameras ranging from my (first) FG to an F4S. One of the problems I have encountered since converting to digital capture has been finding time to digitize my extensive film collection, which contains many photographic gems.
It is time-consuming enough to learn (and keep current on) the plethora of software required for digital processing, although I love everything about the digital workflow and the freedom of creative expression it lends me. On the other hand, I feel I have neglected my classic film images, whether color transparencies, black and white film, or infrared. In this post I am focusing on some classic images taken in New Mexico, originally shot on 35mm color or black and white film with a Nikon F4s camera. These images were recently scanned and digitally processed, and cover locations from the ancient grand ruins of Chaco Canyon and Bandelier National Monument, to the historic San Francisco de Asis Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos and White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo. I will create another post with additional color images in the future.
The images above and just below were taken at historic Bandelier National Monument near Los Alamos, New Mexico. Bandelier National Monument is a 33,677-acre site of great archaeological interest preserving the homes of the Ancestral Pueblo People. It is named after Swiss anthropologist Adolph Bandelier, who researched the cultures of the area. The main attraction of the monument is Frijoles Canyon, containing a number of ancestral pueblo homes, kivas (ceremonial structures), rock paintings and petroglyphs. Some of the dwellings were rock structures built on the canyon floor; others were “cavates” produced by voids in the volcanic tuff of the canyon wall and carved out further by humans. The top image depicts one of many ladders leading up into the ancient cliff dwellings. The image directly below lends a view of a ‘rock face’ in the cliff. A ceremonial kiva structure is located at the base of the cliff.
Next up is one of my favorite images taken on 35mm color transparency film, scanned, digitized, and converted to black and white. This image was shot at the ancient and renowned Chaco Culture (Canyon) National Historical Park in New Mexico, and depicts the great Pueblo Bonito complex. Covering almost two acres and comprising at least 650 rooms, Pueblo Bonito is the largest Great House; in parts of the complex, the structure was four stories high. Chaco Culture National Historical Park hosts the densest and most exceptional concentration of pueblos in the American Southwest. The park is located in northwestern New Mexico, between Albuquerque and Farmington, in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash. Containing the most sweeping collection of ancient ruins north of Mexico, the park preserves one of the United States’ most important Precolumbian cultural and historic areas.
Between AD 900 and 1150, Chaco Canyon was a major center of culture for the Ancient Pueblo Peoples. Chacoans quarried sandstone blocks and hauled timber from great distances, assembling 15 major complexes which remained the largest buildings in North America until the 19th century. Evidence of archaeoastronomy at Chaco has been proposed, with the Sun Dagger petroglyph at Fajada Butte a popular example. Many Chacoan buildings may have been aligned to capture the solar and lunar cycles, requiring generations of astronomical observations and centuries of skillfully coordinated construction. Climate change is thought to have led to the emigration of Chacoans and the eventual abandonment of the canyon, beginning with a 50-year drought in 1130.
The images above and just below were taken at historic San Francisco de Asis (St. Francis of Assisi) Mission Church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. These photographs were originally shot on 35mm black and white film at the famous backside (rear) of the renowned adobe mission church, located on the plaza in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico, just south of the town of Taos and the historic Taos Pueblo. The images were scanned and digitally processed. San Francisco de Asis Mission Church was built between 1772 and 1816; construction on the church was completed by Franciscan Fathers. The church is made of adobe, as are many of the Spanish missions in New Mexico. The church’s patron is Saint Francis of Assisi. This iconic, historic structure has served as the inspiration for the greatest number of artistic depictions of any building in the United States. It was the subject of four paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe, as well as classic black and white photographs by Ansel Adams and Paul Strand. Georgia O’Keeffe described it as one of the most beautiful buildings left in the United States by the early Spaniards. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1970.
Finally, the image below was originally shot on 35mm color transparency film at the glorious White Sands National Monument near Alamogordo, New Mexico. It was scanned, digitized, and converted to a slightly toned black and white. These dunes are unusual in that they consist of gypsum crystals. The White Sands National Monument is located about 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo in western Otero County and northeastern Doña Ana County, at an elevation of 4,235 feet. The area is in the mountain-ringed Tularosa Basin and comprises the southern part of a 275-mi² field of white sand dunes composed of gypsum crystals. Unlike dunes made of quartz-based sand crystals, the gypsum does not readily convert the sun’s energy into heat and thus can be walked upon safely with bare feet, even in the hottest summer months. In areas accessible by car, children frequently use the dunes for downhill sledding.
Because the park lies completely within the White Sands Missile Range, both the park and U.S. Route 70 between Las Cruces, New Mexico and Alamogordo are subject to closure for safety reasons when tests are conducted on the missile range. Gypsum is rarely found in the form of sand because it is water-soluble. Normally, rain would dissolve the gypsum and carry it to the sea. The Tularosa Basin is enclosed, meaning that it has no outlet to the sea and that rain that dissolves gypsum from the surrounding San Andres and Sacramento Mountains is trapped within the basin. Thus water either sinks into the ground or forms shallow pools which subsequently dry out and leave gypsum in a crystalline form, called selenite, on the surface.