am fascinated by things aged, of artifacts from the hand of man, that
have passed through the hands of successive generations, that reveal
time and make it tangible.
Acoma exemplifies this.
The origins of Acoma
Pueblo are lost in time; indeed one way of
translating Acoma is 'The place that always was'. It is probably
around 1000 years old and one of the oldest continuously inhabited
villages on the North American continent. Much like the
from-time-immemorial hilltop towns of rural Italy, it was a fortified
village atop a mesa, virtually unconquerable. According to
legend, its people once lived on an even taller and sheerer nearby mesa
until many were killed in lightning storm of mythic scale. But
the village did fall to the conquistadors in 1599 and was sacked with
horrifying brutality. Its history is told here.
Its age sings in the buildings, which are passed down through generations through a matriarchal inheritance.
I first came to Acoma Pueblo
shortly after college when I was looking at graduate schools for an MFA
in photography. One of the early programs was at the University
of New Mexico in Albuquerque; Acoma was just an hour away. I
brought my 5x7 View Camera. There was then no reception center
and precious little in the way of tours. There was no one
around....like a Caribbean island, most of the inhabitants live
more modern homes in the valley; there is nowhere neat enough room for
them all atop the mesa. They keep a traditional presence there...
and so I set up my view camera and took a few pictures, including this
one of the church. Then someone turned up, told us the Pueblo was
closed, and we left. This image was scanned from a palladium
contact print made
from a 5"x7" Plus-X negative.
But I never forgot it and, when visiting the Southwest in 2011, jumped
at the chance to revisit it. This time we took a tour and saw
substantial parts of the Pueblo.
This image was taken with the Canon 5DMkII and converted to black and white using Nik Super Efex software.
Ansel Adams said of New Mexico that it was his Paris. Much as a
writer of that period might go on pilgramage to Paris, Adams soaked up
the lanscape of the Southwest and was imprinted by its fierce, sparse
energy and rigor. If you have the sensibility, it can be
electrifying, something like being in the presence of the Burning Bush
and having God light your soul.
So it is that I have
Bellini's St. Francis in Ecstacy
at the bottom of my web page.
And I have found no other place that speaks to my vision like
Acoma. Here is the essence of enduring life, of creating a life
out of one the sparest imaginable essentials.
Photographing there reduces me to babbling. Imagine. A
window made not of glass but a 9" square chunk of raw fissured
translucent quartz. Where did someone find it, how long before
the appearance of the white man and window glass, must it have been put
in place? Here with an aluminum downspout available from your local building supply!
A few more images..the view past a home to the valley beyond.
The spare rigor of the imagery!
In the midst of an arid land, there were pools atop the mesa...
The stones by the door, we were told, help to hold the doors closed in the wind....and signify that the family is away.
I could have spent a month there and I desperately wanted a large format camera to really do Acoma justice. I have a lot
more images just from a few hours there, and these have not been tuned
or manipulated in any way.