Sunday, 25 January 2015

Flow State

Forty minutes before sunrise, and Taos looks like a watercolor painting that’s been slid into a tray of blue liquid. Indigo dissolves into cobalt; navy bleeds into cerulean. On this frosty November morning, I discover that a Starbucks card makes an excellent windshield scraper.

By the time the sun has eased open the door of morning, I’m standing at the edge of the Rio Grande del Norte gorge. The river far below winds through northern New Mexico like a backbone. I take my first step forward. The trail is steep: over the next mile I will descend over 800 vertical feet.

Rob Atkins © Copyright 2015

At the trail’s end, I’ve entered another world. Beside the river, Ponderosa pines create a shaded area around a natural spring. Centuries-old Native American petroglyphs cover a basalt rock, and the wind sends a fragrance of Juniper through the air. The only other human presence I’ve seen all morning has been my shadow. I sit on a large rock, trying to absorb this extraordinary moment, lost in the sound of the Rio Grande’s steady flow.

How long I sat there is hard to say, as at some point time had stopped being relevant. Had minutes stretched hours, or had hours collapsed into minutes? I started to think of Akira Kurosawa’s film Dreams. In the final chapter, a man wanders into a village where everything is perfect, a utopia that completely humbles him.

I too had found my edenic place. And I was in no hurry to leave.

Rob Atkins © Copyright 2015

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Mud, Sweat and Beers

Monday morning, early. I walk across the dirt parking lot to the adobe church at Ranchos de Taos, NM, completed in 1810 and made famous by Georgia O’Keeffe and so many others. It’s the time of year when the structure gets its annual coat of fresh mud, a protective later to see it through another season.

There are a few workers setting up for the day. I start talking with one of them, an engaging fellow named Juan, who tells me that his volunteer crew hasn’t been seen for several days. Would I like to lend a hand? 

For a couple of days I put down my camera and pick up a trowel and plasterer’s hawk – la plana y la coca – and spread a coat of mud, called an aliz, over wide sections of the church. A watery mixture of mud with a bit of sand, the aliz forms the final layer to cover the centuries old adobe bricks.

Photo of Rob by Karla McWilliams, NM State Preservation Office

At times I’m high up on a ladder, leaning far over with la plana, my entire existence being held in place by the weight of Juan’s foot on the bottom rung.

After the second day, I join my new TaoseƱo friends for a round of beers. I listen to their stories and laugh along with them, tired and dirty, but happy to be with such good company. Juan tells me that I’ve really helped them out, and that I seem to have a knack for adobe mud work. Who knew?

The next morning I’m on a regional jet heading to LAX. The New York Times lies flat on my lap, unopened. All I can do is stare at my mud-encrusted shoes…and smile.

Rob Atkins © Copyright 2014

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Pride and Pittsburgh

"Other than that, Icarus, how was the fight?"

I've been spending a lot of time lately with the book 
Dream Street: W. Eugene Smith's Pittsburgh Project, edited by Sam Stephenson. 

In 1955 Smith, one of the great photojournalist of his time - or any time -  was commissioned to create images for a book on the city of Pittsburgh, and some of his best-known images result from that endeavor. While he was only expected to spend three weeks in the city and supply his publisher with one hundred finished images, his obsessive personality soon took over. He ended up photographing for close to three years and made about 17,000 images, of which he printed two thousand work prints

The book was never published; Dream Street is only an approximation of the magnum opus Smith had envisioned, with a fraction of the images. But it is a great book none the less.

One image I love most from the project is pictured above. On a lark, I searched Google Maps for the location of the street corner where Smith shot, then used the street view feature to make the contemporary frame grab, above right. (It's scary to think of how much time I spend on Google maps, tracking through city streets, a vicarious kind of travel.)

Smith characterized his obsession of photographing Pittsburgh with references to the Greek myth of Icarus: "Mine would not be the first wings to melt near the sun." 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014


© Rob Atkins 2014

My first print-on-demand (POD) book is now available through Blurb. It can be viewed here.

It will be "Exhibit A" in a class on photography books that I will be teaching at Langara College starting at the end of April.

© Rob Atkins 2014

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Summer of 2010

© Rob Atkins 2014

Going through some older files on a backup hard drive, I came across this shot I did in Venice, California, with its obvious reference to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It brought to mind something I remember reading in the Huffington Post: they ran an article on the live video feed of the oil spill, reviewing it, actually, like they would  a film.

The "review" mentions the work of Godfrey Reggio, the Santa Fe-based filmmaker who wrote the foreword to my book, Neon Mesa. I've included part of the review below.

Despite the simplicity of its execution, BP's Oil Spill Live Feed offers something unprecedented in the history of cinema: a $200-billion experimental art film. 

The plot is straightforward to the point of primitive: An underwater gulf oil pipe gushes oil incessantly. It challenges the viewer with a single, static protracted shot -- lasting, so far, for days stretching into weeks and, soon, months -- and a nontraditional narrative.

Watching Oil Spill Live Feed for hours upon end has a mesmerizing cumulative effect, not unlike Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi, only minus the bravura editing, the gorgeous and disquieting vistas, and the music.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Georgia On My Mind

I came across the following quote stenciled on a shop window, and thought it nicely encapsulates my feelings about photography. Below it are some recent images.

I found I could say things with colors and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.

                                             - Georgia O'Keeffe

© Rob Atkins 2014

© Rob Atkins 2014

© Rob Atkins 2014

© Rob Atkins 2014

© Rob Atkins 2014

© Rob Atkins 2014

New Mexico Update

Several new images that I'm very pleased with have been added to the Northern New Mexico portfolio of my Website. Please come by for a visit!

© Rob Atkins 2014

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Agni Ayurveda, Santa Fe

Prakash Jagadappa
© Rob Atkins 2013
My good friend Prakash Jagadappa has just opened Agni Ayurveda, a cooking school and nutritional center is Santa Fe. It's located at 1622 Saint Michael's Drive, right beside Annapurna's World Vegetarian Cafe.

I wish Prakash every success!

Prakash and Rob
© Rob Atkins 2013