“Typical” New Mexico Day

I’m currently working on a long-term documentary project on the state of New Mexico. I’ve been working on this for several years, and I have several more in front of me until this project even remotely begins to take shape. When I started this project I had a very specific angle, which is what I felt I had to have to keep the project withing the parameters of our industry. Short, concise, digestible, etc. I’d worked this way for YEARS, but in late 2010, after I decided to stop working as a photographer, I realized I had been short-changing myself in regard to how I was working. The moment I no longer had to see this work as a commercial endeavor I felt an enormous weight lifted. In some ways, I finally felt like a photographer again.

I used the work “typical” in this post but did so with tongue in cheek because there is no such thing on this project. What I love about the American West is the unpredictability, and this story is no different. I normally have a solid ideas as to where I’m going and what I’m going to shoot, but now I am totally open to whimsy along the way. In fact, I’m looking for it, hoping for it, etc. This day I was scheduled to descend into the Jemez and photograph Phillip Vigil, a young New Mexican artist who I’ve worked with before. Phillip lives in the Jemez and I wanted to make pictures where he creates his work so that I could get an idea of how the location influences his art. This was roughly a 220 mile day, part pavement, part dirt. Starting at about 7000 feet, topping out at about 9000 feet. High wind, dust, hot and cold. Other elements of the unknown of New Mexico.

I shot black and white as well, but wanted to just show the color here. The final image is strange, and I’m not entirely sure how this happened. Remember the “Super Moon” of a few weeks ago? Well, this image was made the second the moon appeared over the Sangre de Christo Mountains. I didn’t move the camera, at all, as evidenced by the mountain in the bottom of the frame, but yet I had three photographs with the moon streaking off the edge of the frame. I would imagine it is simply due to light reflection, refracting, off of the lens? Not really sure.

I left late morning and returned to Santa Fe at about 7PM. I shot about eighty images with the M9 and two rolls with the M4. Of all those frames I MIGHT have one or two that work. Maybe. But, I’m going back end of the month. Still building.

10 responses to ““Typical” New Mexico Day”

  1. Brendan says:

    Hi Dan, long tern projects are interesting in terms of where they end up from what was initially envisaged- do you manage to keep an eye on on the initial aim of the project, or does it evolve drastically from start to finish?
    We haven’t heard much of the M9 recently, have you refined your way of working with it – I mean in terms of the interlude between taking the picture and then bringing it to a print. I still find this much harder with digital, and I do wonder whether it’s because the short time between picture taking and print/ on screen review doesn’t give the image any time to accumulate any significance in my memory of the moment.

    • Smogranch says:


      I used to work VERY specifically when it came to projects and ideas. But now, now that I don’t work as a photographer, I don’t have to work this way. However, I do still typically have the basic idea in mind.
      As for the M9, I no longer have it. If you want digital, it’s a great camera. I, after coming to this realization and trying to deny it, at least 1000 times, is that I’m a film photographer. I no longer own a digital camera. Actually, I quit using Instagram as well. I’m just programmed wrong I guess. I did manage to break my newly restored M4, so I have that going for me.

    • Brendan says:

      Thanks Dan, hope you get it fixed soon.

    • Smogranch says:

      Fingers crossed.

    • Reiner says:

      what a lovely feeling it must have been: I’m a film photographer… it sure makes it 1000 times easier to start in the morning for me

    • Smogranch says:

      no computer time needed.

  2. Slow journalism and long term projects are fascinating and alien to me. If I ever stop running, I would like to try and work this way.
    Nice job capturing the spaceship taking off in that last frame.

    • Smogranch says:

      Long-term for me now is like a fly buzzing around my head. A fly I can’t kill, nor one that I want’ to kill. From time to time, I get a moment here, a moment there, and I allow the fly to land on my arm. Then I work.

  3. Matt Martin says:

    Hey Dan,

    How do your project ideas come about? How do you decide – I’m going to commit a large part of my time and effort towards photographing New Mexico? Personally, I’m jaded with working commercially and want to start a personal project but not sure how to get started. Any advice?


    • Smogranch says:


      Very simple. What do you love? What do you think about when your mind wanders? What do you REALLY want to photograph? What would you shoot were you NOT working commercially? New Mexico came about for me because of several factors, but namely where I spent part of my childhood, rural Wyoming. That place and spirit never left me. It was dormant for years but suddenly reemerged and I couldn’t fight it. Also, “Blood Meridian” by Cormac McCarthy. That book sparked something in me as well. Now I’m on a quest and I will be on it for years to come. No hurry because it’s so big I couldn’t rush this if I had to. In many ways, I’m at the mercy of the project.

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