50th Wedding Anniversary Portrait of Walthall Family Iowa Falls, IA 1902
AS A CHILD, I WAS MESMERIZED BY A LITTLE SQUARE of metal covered in dials that my grandfather studied as he composed our family portrait. Scampering to the group's edge, he assured inclusion in a deftly exposed assemblage of light and smiles. Since then, I have held most of my ancestors’ photographic equipment: my grandfather’s Yashika and his GE light meter, Uncle Roy’s Leica, Uncle Pat’s yellow underwater 16mm Minolta, Dad’s Argus, and Great-grandfather Walthall’s 5x7 cherrywood view camera that he used in his studio and out West quite close to where I live today. When I discovered a trove of glass plate negatives and cabinet cards in a trunk at our summer cabin, I understood how deeply silver runs in my veins.
In an older family portrait (above), there are eight siblings, three of them photographers, and a view camera’s quiet presence resting against the family home as though the ninth. Regrettably, the heirloom view camera was stolen from me at gunpoint during my early days living in Houston, the city where despite the trauma of theft, my photographic life blossomed. As founding vice-president of the Houston Center for Photography, I served on its board for many years; volunteered and exhibited during FotoFest’s formative years; apprenticed in corporate and fashion photo studios; and with writer Steven Fenberg embarked on the Toxic Tour of Texas, a documentary portraying citizen-activists who effectively challenged government and industry hazardous waste practices that had damaged their communities’ air, land, water, health, and culture.
At that time, I was simultaneously energized by the photo-narrative’s expanding impact and the pull to leave the commercial and urban world for a quieter rural life. Wanting to live fully in the restorative face of nature, I resettled in the village of Chacón, high in the mountains of Northern New Mexico. Here, I set out establishing a studio and gardens, building soil and relationships, while also pondering my photographic purpose. With cameras as my companions, I was inspired to serve history by exploring and chronicling a local culture redolent in tradition and ritual. As well, I realized that my interest in the link between culture and landscape began with a childhood in agrarian South Texas on the Mexico border and from far reaching travels with my parents, both of which made me aware the landscape’s intertwining influence with people’s lives. It is from these revelations and my family’s generational examples that the projects seen here have evolved.