posted under: 2013

tripping through new mexico

kiva theater las vegas 2009

I’ve just discovered the work of Robert Christensen. From his website:



In 52 stunning black-and-white photographs, Belen-based photographer Robert Christensen has documented, in a spare compositional format, home-spun, down-to-earth buildings such as gas stations, garages, barns, bars, and shops, which he calls the we-don’t-need-no-stinking-blueprints school of structural design. The artist states, “I see these images as portraits of unassuming, idiosyncratic individuals, rather than pure historical documentation. While quite a few of these buildings still stand, as a genus they are fading away, along with the individualism and self-reliance that produced them. Some have been replaced by mundane new construction, some have been chicly remodeled at the expense of their original allure, and some have just vanished.”

Over the past four decades Christensen has traveled to all corners of New Mexico and neighboring borderlands looking for interesting buildings along the way. The list of locations of structures captured by the artist inspires the imagination. . . .Towns such as Vado, Dexter, Vaughn, Midway, Acme, La Joya, Cleveland, and Canutillo all evoke places of forgotten legend or the mythical long ago.

The photo at the top is the Kiva Theatre in Las Vegas, New Mexico, which Christensen shot in 2009 but it could have been 1949. Have a look at a few more of his photos in the gallery below — and then go to his website to view more. His work is not only stunning, it’s a gift — intimate little worlds discovered in landscapes that can, in life, feel parched, empty and forgotten. Christensen has made me see and experience those landscapes differently.

What I appreciate most is how these photos have accrued over decades of seeing — it’s a rich visual history that would have remained invisible to and unknown by a larger world if Christensen hadn’t documented it.

saul leiter: in no great hurry

SaulLeiter_31_Exacta 1948
Exacta, 1948, Saul Leiter

I’ve just watched In No Great Hurry: 13 Lessons in Life with Saul Leiter, a 2013 documentary by Tomas Leach. Understated and quiet, the film follows Leiter around his life, self-consciously walking the line between wanting to get closer to the man and the artist while not wanting to be intrusive — a tension that runs through the film and gives a tentative, hesitant feel to the camera work and Leach’s side of the conversation. Leach’s awe of Leiter was palpable in the film and understandable — but it sometimes got in the way of his filmmaking; it was visible in his choices to the point that it narrowed Leiter’s story and the viewer’s experience of it.

Most of the film was shot in Leiter’s studio in the East Village, where he’d lived since 1952, and cuts between Leiter speaking to the camera, making coffee, slowly rummaging through piles of film, prints, papers and boxes accrued over decades, and walking the streets near his studio looking for things to shoot. The 13 lessons provide the film’s structure, but within it, the meandering pace and lingering focus on everyday surfaces keep Leiter more obscured and contained than revealed, which I found unsatisfying. And which drove me to pause the film multiple times to revisit Leiter’s work to get a deeper and more direct experience of his way of looking and seeing.

Yet by the end of the film, I found the low-key encounter with Leiter as directed by Leach satisfying on its own terms if not mine. It gave me a more complete picture of Leiter than I’d had, and I walked away convinced of the value of being, like Leiter, in no great hurry — either in life or in art. And pausing to follow my own meandering diversions made watching the film a richer and more complete experience for me.

I find Leiter’s work deeply affecting. His photos give you privileged entry into private worlds and lyrical moments which, captured in time, live out of time, beyond their moment, forever accessible. Leiter died in November 2013, which makes Leach’s film a lovely gift to Leiter and the world. As Teju Cole writes in an obituary of Leiter in the New Yorker:

Undoubtedly, the charm of some of Leiter’s pictures lies in the fact that they depict fifties places, fifties cars, and fifties people (we rarely dress so well today), and that the analog reds and greens are more moving, somehow, than what our own digital cameras or streetscapes can offer up. But pictures such as “Through Boards” (1957), “Canopy” (1958), and “Walking With Soames” (1958) would be winners in any era. They are high points of lyric photography which, once seen, become—like all the best pictures and poems and paintings—a permanent part of our lives.

china: two daily snaps

From 2013 — two daily snaps by Grant Faint.

grant faint china

grant faint china