Two Days Away

Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_002

“Time off” is a strange concept.

It’s odd to me that many people spend decades in jobs they might not enjoy or respect. This has been the human story since the beginning of jobs. Think about the person who had to leave the cave to gather firewood when they KNEW that right outside that safe, stone cavern was a dazzling range of animals who loved nothing more than to dismember you, lap up your entrails and use your shinbone as a toothpick. I’ve had some horrific jobs over the years starting with my first job ever, picking up nails. Imagine an expanse of land that ran from one edge of the horizon to the other, located at 8000 feet with unpredictable weather and its own assortment of angry and dangerous animals. Bucket in hand, staring at the ground, hour after hour….picking up nails. I got a penny apiece. I was promoted to “tractor greaser” which also proved to be less than ideal, and over the next few decades I made my way though hot tub installer, fragrance model, model-model (for one day), bouncer (for about an hour) and even on to newspaper photographer at a tiny paper where I shot, printed, edited, shot halftones and did paste up. This last job was as bad as any of the others.
Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_054
My current job is the best job I’ve ever had. My title still has “photographer” in it, but I rarely do any photography for my employer. I do…different things, and those things change from time to time. This job is challenging, fast, fluid but also puts me in fun places with interesting people. I’m fortunate. I think I get two weeks vacation a year, but I’m not really sure. I don’t take a lot of vacation. In fact, in eighteen years of being with my wife I don’t really think we’ve gone on a real vacation. Like where you go sit somewhere warm and get fat. We aren’t really vacation people, but I wish we were. I think about it a lot. I know plenty of people who take two or three trips a year, just traveling, or surfing or hiking or laying buy a pool. I keep thinking I’m going to do that, but I also know I probably never will. For me there is just far too much to do. I’m trying to stop feeling this way, but it’s more difficult than I imagined. I’m 46 and I have an incurable disease. Nothing like reality to bite my vacation pondering self in the ass.
Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_040
I was recently in Santa Fe and had just been stung by a bee. Standing there hanging out with some friends and someone says “Hey, full moon June 2nd, we should go to Chaco.” Now, the easy thing to do is chew on this idea for a few days, find a reason not to go and then politely bow out. Instead we all said “Okay, let’s go.” And we did. I actually didn’t make the full moon, had to leave the day before, but it was still damn bright and I got the point. I drove my fully loaded vehicle across roads not fit for man or beast and backed it up to a campsite and pitched my tent. Now, before I go any further I need to let you know that before I left Santa Fe I turned my phone off and place it in the front pocket of one of my leather “Dan Bags.” I loaded a roll of TRI-X in my Leica M4 and twisted on the 50mm.
Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_066
Two days later I was terrified. EVERYTHING normal in my life, EVERYTHING routine in my life was dangerously close to falling off the edge of a cliff and disappearing forever. There were moments when I thought about walking into those hills and not coming back. The idea of a telephone, or talking to anyone, or emailing or posting something was ALMOST completely erased from my thought process. I never took a shower, or cleaned myself in any comprehensive manor, and was covered in a fine layer of sweaty grim. And I was positively content, so much so that I realized why I don’t take much vacation. Too dangerous. Too suggestive. Of course it’s all BS because life on the outside is BRUTAL. It’s just the mind game
Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_034
Now, to be fair, I was with several incredible artists, inspiring people who make things that I want and need to see. Fire, conversation, physical activity, history carved in stone and elements front and center combined to create a unique scenario. Icy rain on a sunburned back. Shooting stars.
Milnor__Chaco_Canyon_2015_041

Near and Fargo: New Mexico 20140907

IMG_3244
Some don’t make it back. I smelled this poor little guy before I saw him. Coyotes and cars don’t play well. I was climbing slowly, rising sun in my face when the whiff of death became apparent. Only the sound of my breathing as I stopped to make this little tribute.
IMG_3246
The road continued to climb for several miles then topped out with a view of a small mountain village. The road turned to dirt and the mobile had no signal. Keep pedaling. A low road along a dried up river but the soil was damp with recent rains, a small column of dirt spraying up from the front wheel. Switchbacks began and were loose, dry and laden with washboard. Up and up and up. Small sprocket, looking down between my legs at the rear ring, never wanting to surrender to the low gear. A photo, ya, that’s it. Reason to stop.
IMG_3249
At roads end was a gate blocking my movement, but oh what a gate it was. It is claimed that 75% of all Fortune 500 CEO’s have property in or near Santa Fe, and this baby looked like one such compound. Every trip out here I find a new paradise..owned by someone else.
IMG_3250
There was no choice but to retrace my step. Miles of downhill back to Two Trails and then I drop south into the high desert. Miles of downhill tarmac, nice shoulder, no shoulder, glass, debris, etc. And then single track along the rails all the way back to town. The trails changes to improved trail and I realize I’d ridden five difference surfaces on this little gem. Right at forty, perfect, solitary miles. RIP Mr.Coyote

Nature Always Wins

“Nature always wins,” she said.

“I wrote that in my journal yesterday,” I said. “Those exact words.”

This is a place worth getting involved with. There is meaning to life here. Good, bad, beautiful, ugly, all of it. The weather has meaning as well. Water means a tremendous amount, even if the rest of the country doesn’t seem to notice the lack of life’s fluid in the Southwest

MP_Wildness_034

June is known for hot and windy not hail and gully-washing downpours, but here it was, for the taking. A thirteen-hour drive complete, fatigue overwhelming me, my soul and every trace of my DNA. And then came this, like a freight train of ice and wind. I had to record it. Had to.

In the grand scheme this was a kiss from a baby. Down south they got baseball size gifts wrapped in seventy mile per hour wind. Nature here likes to remind, and it’s comforting to know your place in the world. Concrete has yet to consume here, and I hope it never does. This place is still wild and we are just visitors.

New “Field Magazine” for New Mexico

I just ordered this thing and received it in less than one week. The doorbell rang and I looked through the glass to see yet another Blurbish box, the 157th time this has happened to be exact. I actually didn’t know what it was because I had only ordered the magazine a few days ago and didn’t think that could possibly be enough time. Apparently it is. BOOM, it’s here. I did one of these months ago, a small one, 20-pages, which I’ve been using in the field. This last trip, which was mostly wasted replacing the entire sewer line at my house, I used the magazine while working just outside of Santa Fe. The response to having the magazine was as good as you could get. In fact, it was what prompted me to do this version which is 80-pages and has more of the full story of why I’m out doing what I’m doing.

Smogranch_Milnor_New_Mexico_001

Making a publication like this, and then showing it in the field, is evidence you are not messing around. In fact, after I showed the previous version, the person I showed it to referenced the magazine later the same day and then again a few days later. I think it also had a lot to do with this person saying “You guys are okay,” and “I think you have good intentions with what you are doing,” and in that neck of the woods trust is essential to do any kind of photographic business. As for making a tool like this I don’t over think the matter. I see a need and I just go. So far this methodology has worked out pretty darn well, both commercially and now entirely and joyfully on my own.
Smogranch_Milnor_New_Mexico_004
As with many of the things I create these days, I didn’t have a lot of time to obsess about the meaning or particulars. Even with limited time the creation of this tool forced me to spend focused energy in regard to editing and sequencing. This is NEVER a bad thing even when after doing so you realize how LITTLE good work you actually have. Sob, sob. I think it has been four years and counting on this project, but a very, very light part-time at best. Doing this particular kind of work you realize the world isn’t a small place at all. You realize that even one state, in one country, on one continent would take a lifetime to really get to see and understand.
Smogranch_Milnor_New_Mexico_006
Smogranch_Milnor_New_Mexico_008
Smogranch_Milnor_New_Mexico_012

Full admission here…looking at this magazine makes me FEEL really good. It FEELS great to find a bit of clarity in the photographic clutter of life. I carry this thing in my bag and hope I can show it to others. It makes me think about what I’m doing and how the people IN the photos would respond to this. How would they feel? What does it mean to be included? What will it mean to those who have yet to see it? Having this magazine also makes me feel like there are A LOT of photographers in the world who could do amazing things with this tool. The magazine represents a very special place in the heart of generations of photographers. We all know the current state of the editorial world, so when you think about doing a magazine on your own, and running work the way it was intended to be seen, you realize just how powerful a tool like this can be. If I was a better designer I would love to create a collaborative, quarterly publication showcasing good photography with enough real estate to allow the work to shine.

Homecoming

“You know this story of yours might be a homecoming.”

This idea was presenting to me by a friend and fellow photographer after we overlapped on our current projects. My current project IS a homecoming, and each and every time I bring my camera to eye I can sense and sometimes feel the influence of my father. He’s out there somewhere. Sometimes he plays tricks on me. (The hummingbird thing..I know that was you padre.)

SR_dad_me_Wy

The short of it is I miss the old man. Dad was the reason we first went to Wyoming all those years ago. The cross country drive with siblings and a car sick dog. The silence, the wind, the smell of sage after a rain. Like an infection, that place put the hooks in me and never let go, and it’s because he put me there in the first place. I set my pants on fire with a branding iron because of him. I got trampled by cows because of him. I got stepped on, scraped off, bucked off and knocked over by horses because of him. I got my fingers caught in the fence because of him. I broke beaver dams because of him. I picked up nails because of him. I learned to shoot, hunt and fish because of him.

SR_beaver_

SR_calf_

Wyoming was true open space and once you have it in your bloodstream there is no antidote available. You have to live with the knowledge of what it’s like. The overwhelming din of absolute silence and isolation. The elements, those you need to mind or they will erase you from this place, and the landscape that reminds you that you are one step away from nowhere. I think about this place on a daily basis. I don’t fully understand it, not sure I ever will, but now I have New Mexico and this place is rapidly filling a mile wide void in my mental state. I need this place more than I want it, if that’s possible. Dust and bones, history and the knowledge that out there, around the next bend or over the next ridge line, is the unknown I’m stalking like the ghost of a bygone time.

SR_dandy_

The sound of leather soled Western boots on the dry ground. The flash of lightning and simultaneous pounding of the accompanying thunder. Hail so thick it looked like snow. Watching game move through that first crack of morning light, foreleg lifted but not yet placed, nostrils exhaling the steam of a heart driven combustion engine, all senses on high-alert. It was all too good to believe. Of course I had no pressure on me, it wasn’t my ranch. It belonged to him, and his ranch partner who is equally guilty in this crime of my exposure to the West.
SR_Juan_me

Juan wasn’t my father but it sure felt like he was, and this was a good thing. Juan wasn’t from the West, he was Cuban, but as they say he got west as fast as he could. The real deal cowboy. Not the rodeo type or the owner of a 4×4 with a lift kit, he was right off the pages of what you think you know about the West. I saw him do a lot of things you probably wouldn’t believe, so I’m not going to waste your time with trying to explain them to you now. He had a touch of the wild in him, probably still does. I hid his cigarettes and he ran me down and made me give them up. He made me do everything I was afraid to do. He taught me an extreme range of words I wasn’t supposed to repeat. He bought me a hamburger after I started crying when I slammed my head into the passenger side window on the way home from a trip to Ft. Collins to pick up tractor parts. He rescued my fingers from the fence. He left me in the middle of nowhere with a notepad and my first “assignment” to track the cows being bred by the lucky bull in front of me. It was perfect.
SR_mule_arizona

There was also another guilty party. Yep, mom was there too. She taught me a lot including what a Pentax K1000 and Haliburton case looked like. That case went everywhere we went, just like the bag I carry today. From truck to truck it would be stuck behind the bench seat as we roamed the pastures or mountainsides coming out from time to time to make these pictures you see here. Back then what she did was considered not extreme but dedicated. Like a slow trickle from an irrigation pipe, it might not seem like a lot but when all is said and done a photographic archive exists and the thirst of a field is satisfied.

I’m not sure where I go from here. I really don’t know. All I know is I can’t run from the demon forever. At some point the haunting of the West will come calling and I will need to go and pay whatever respect is required. It might be nothing. It might be everything. Until that time I’ll continue to drift. And when I’m out there amid whatever it is that brushes against me, I’ll know that the old man is there too, right where he should be.

Dedicated to BOJ

Thanks for putting me there.