Black and white photography by fine art photographers Bart Ellison, Elaine Querry, and Ford Robbins will grace the walls of Las Vegas Arts Council’s Gallery 140 through the month of November.
The Bisti Badlands is a magical place of bizarrely sculpted tan and red sandstone, red clinkers and stacked layers of black coal and grey shale. My photographs not only document what is there but also attempt to capture the otherworldly feeling that I experience every time I venture into the Bisti.
The Bisti badlands are 35 miles south of Farmington. Part of the badlands are protected as a Wilderness created in 1984 by an act of Congress as a reaction to PNM and coal companies’ plans to create a strip mine and mine mouth power plant in the Bisti area.
Much of the badlands are flat open barren alluvial planes around the Alamo wash. Scattered sculpted sandstone formations are often only a few feet tall. Around the edges of the alluvial plane are shallow canyons of sculpted sandstone sitting atop mudstone, shale and coal layers. The floor of the badlands is covered with red clinkers (small sharp rocks) that were created by a centuries-long underground fire.
The Bisti inspires a sense of mystery, majesty, awe and loneliness. To evoke these feelings in viewers I use contrasting textures; place sculptures against the sky; use infrared light capture; and photograph the Bisti big skies.
San Diego native Bart Ellison was educated as an engineer at the University of California, Berkeley receiving his PhD in 1969. He was employed by Shell Oil for 30 years in both research and oil field operations and retired in 1999. He and his wife Susan Ammerman raised 4 children together. They moved to San Miguel County in 2000 to start a small sheep farm. Today they sell lamb to the local market.
Bart studied black and white photography at Houston Community College and has been photographing landscapes since the mid 1970s. After his retirement he devoted substantial effort to landscape photography and received training and inspiration in digital photography at Santa Fe Community College. He has exhibited widely in New Mexico.
Mexico: Moments of Truth Elaine Querry
I began photographing in Mexico when I first lived there in 1989. Since then I have visited the country many times and lived for over three consecutive years in San Miguel de Allende.
The focus of this work is the people, the events, and the landscape of Mexico. Most of these images were photographed in the Bajio region of Mexico–in the state of Guanajuato. As a traveler and as an observer my aim is to record life as I see it, to attempt to capture the timelessness of place, to convey both the beauty and the harshness of life as I find it.
I see my work as a combination of documentation and fine art photography.
This Mexico work is in the 35mm format and the images are printed full-frame–that is, they are not cropped. I want to show you all that I have seen. I neither orchestrate nor pose my subjects, nor do I work in a studio. My images are not digitally manipulated in any way–you may be certain that what you see here is true. Each image comes to you as I first saw it through my viewfinder and later through my enlarger. Above all else, I am an observer–detail, composition, and shadow make up the foundation of my work.
I’ve been a working photographer for over 35 years. First as a newspaper photographer/photojournalist and for the past 25 years as a fine-art photographer.
I work in a variety of photographic processes–traditional black and white, cyanotypes, digital and emulsion transfers–and I also paint some of my black and white images. I like to be challenged by my work and in doing my art–I never know what might happen.
My work is in private and public collections and has been used as cover art for books and publications in this country and in Europe. I have exhibited widely—in France, Greece, Mexico, New York, and Connecticut, as well as throughout the Southwestern United States—and have been honored with a number of awards and prizes.
Along with my husband Ron Querry–an internationally-published author–and our good cow dogs, I am privileged to live in a century-old Victorian house in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Ford Robbins 1942-2015
In his own words…
I am one of those people who must be in the natural world. As a child living in Minneapolis, I spent peaceful summer days fishing at the nearby lakes. As a teen I spent my summers on the lakes sailing or paddling Minnesota’s boundary waters in a canoe. For me, the natural world is not a refuge from the world; it is an important part of my being.
Most of my images are the result of my work in the ecologically distressed and/or threatened rock, rough and desolate places near my home. I am constantly struck by the sheer beauty present in places of severe or significant environmental destruction, places that I would not believe capable of supporting life. The fecundity of nature in these areas is breathtaking. With these images, I trust we will pay more attention to the world around us and become more compassionate toward and connected with our home.
I am interested in the essence of things, how light creates that essence, and how I relate with that essence. I cannot define what stops me, what causes me to pause, but something draws me in. For me, every photograph is primarily a moment of being alive; it is only incidentally a record of historic fact or time.
I “create” on film, yet that is not possible without a deep embrace of what is in front of me. I intend that my image reveal something more than the object in it, and to move you, the viewer, to a higher level of sensual awareness of the world we live in.
Today it seems that we draw our connections to “reality” from a world of “electronically-generated vistas and engineered pleasures,” as David Abram has described. I am not interested in “virtual” reality. I draw my link to reality from direct experience. I try to translate that experience into the images I create. Lorine Niedecker eloquently reminds us that “in every part of every living thing / is stuff that once was rock / In blood the minerals of the rock.”
My tools are simple: a mechanical camera loaded with film, a tripod, and a light meter. Prints are made in a darkroom using chemicals. I enjoy working with my hands. The materials that I use have taught me much. I need the feedback the materials give me; I cannot get that from a monitor. I also respect the tradition and teaching of my mentors. I want to carry that tradition forward in a new way. I readily accept the new digital tools, but I believe there is a place for the use of the old tools, and I prefer to use them.
Santa Fe photographer Ford Robbins, whose work reflected his love of nature and his wish to share it with a larger community, died at his home in July 2015.
Robbins primarily photographed the landscape of the country — particularly the Southwest — once he moved from Minnesota to Santa Fe in the late 1980s. But some of his recent images showcase an interest in people, animals, structures and graffiti.
He preferred using black-and-white film, said Robbin’s daughter, Heather Sheppard. “It illuminated the harshness of the world that we live in,” she said. “It showed the world as it really is.”
Ford Robbins’ photos have been included in exhibitions at the Palace of the Governors in Santa Fe, the Albuquerque Museum, The Harwood Museum of Art in Taos, as well as in many private, corporate and public collections. A book of his photography, Connections: A Visual Journey, was published by Red Mountain Press in 2009.
Robbins was born in San Pedro, Calif., in November 1942. He took up photography as an early hobby after receiving his first Brownie Hawkeye camera before he was 10. He was primarily self-taught, though over the years he took photography workshops to hone his skills.
He received a bachelor’s degree in government from Lawrence College in Appleton, Wis., and then lived in Minnesota. He went to law school at the University of Minnesota, then worked as an attorney, a task he also performed in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam era.
But during the Minnesota winters, he would drive his truck south to scout out new landscapes and find warmer weather.
His wife, Margaret Robbins, said New Mexico called to him in 1988. “He was drawn to Santa Fe’s creative and artistic community,” she said.
Photographers Kent Bowser and David Halpern, both friends of Ford Robbins, said he was hesitant to describe why he chose a subject or what he wanted his work to impart to the viewer. “He would talk mostly about where he wanted to photograph and what he wanted to photograph — not about the ‘whys’,” Bowser said.
His photography and service to others — be it volunteering at the St. Elizabeth Shelter or offering free legal services to immigrants — drove him in his later years, Margaret Robbins said. “He was very willing to work with people on the fringes of society,” she said.
Robbins turned over some 12,000 of his images to the Palace of the Governors’ Photo Archives in Santa Fe. This show has been scheduled for well over a year. We thank Margaret Robbins for making it possible to present a sampling of Ford Robbin’s work as scheduled, in tribute and in memoriam.