Lowrider named “Chimayó,” Santuario de Chimayó, Chimayó, New Mexico 1997 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
[A low rider is] a beautiful metal box which many call home. It doesn’t matter if the manufacturer was Ford or General Motors, their executives in the suburbs of Detroit watching home movies, vacationing in weird Londons—when the metal is yours you put your mark on it. Buying something is only the first step, what you do to it is your name, your history of angles, your exaggeration, your mad paint for the grand scope of humanity. The urbanites will see them like butterflies with transmissions.
—Victor Hernández Cruz, poet
It used to be that out West, you were known by the horse you rode. Nowadays, that’s translated into cars—and certainly in American culture, you and your car can be identified with each other. That’s OK with me, having been fascinated by cars all my life. I guess I owe this to my dad. He’s a mechanical engineer, and I learned a lot from him about mechanical things. Of course, when I was little I thought he was a train engineer—my mother had to teach me the difference. But I never really understood what my dad did until I visited a car factory in Windsor, Ontario, with my Cub Scout troop.
Cerro Pedernal No. 2, Sunset, Abiquiu, New Mexico 1996 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, is a magnificent yet challenging place to photograph. It’s big and beautiful. But much of it had already been impressed upon my mind by the painter Georgia O’Keeffe. In the beginning, walking along the cliffs, I’d feel a lingering sense that I had seen this somewhere before. Then I’d realize that O’Keeffe had painted here. It wasn’t recognition so much as it was remembrance. When I began making photographs at Ghost Ranch, I sometimes hesitated. I couldn’t see the intended image by itself—only as something influenced by O’Keeffe.
I didn’t want to make photographs that resembled her paintings; I wanted to photograph the spirit of the place that had moved her. I wanted to reveal in my photographs the essence of a particular moment that held me, as I thought it might have held her.
Proof and Press Sheet. The Great White Sands: Ten Luminous Notecards of White Sands National Monument, Printed by Starline Printing Company, 2015
I am a photographer and proud to wear the mantle of a picture maker. But occasionally I don the hat of the graphic designer and create some of the collateral materials that our studio sends out. I became fascinated with graphic design years ago in high school, when I watched my art teacher Norm Stewart produce a booklet titled Prologue to the Administration and Staff: Bloomfield Hills Lahser High School. I remember the excitement of the moment when I opened the first copy, smelling the fresh ink and admiring the elegance of booklet’s design. I knew then that graphic design would play an important role in promoting my photographic work.
Exhibition Installation, Ghost Ranch and the Faraway Nearby, Albuquerque Museum of Art 2009
When you are in the throes of a project time passes without much notice. Psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi calls this mental state where a person is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus—flow. I like that.
Life has been good down in Alamogordo hiking for miles across the gleaming dunes of White Sands National Monument, making photographs for my next book. Capturing just the right moment with my Nikon—when light and inspiration meet if only for a second—have filled my days. I am astonished to learn that my last post—about my mighty Toyota Tundra named Helios—was back in February. Helios and I fortunately continue to work diligently and happily together in Alamogordo following the light. My apologies for my tardiness . . . I will endeavor to do better.
My 2003 Toyota Tundra at White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico 2013 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
One of the most important tools in my photographic work is not found in my camera bag. It’s my perfect Zone V gray toned 2003 Toyota Tundra purchased new from Beaver Toyota in Santa Fe. I have come to truly respect Toyota and in fact this dealer too. Years ago, after many failed attempts to repair a Toyota Land Cruiser I owned at the time, Toyota gave me a new vehicle with their sincerest apologies. They have had my heartfelt gratitude and loyalty to their brand ever since.
Weston and his horse Cowboy, nr. Santa Fe, New Mexico 2014 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
Making a successful portrait is one of my greatest challenges and joys as a photographer. To look into the eyes of a subject and catch a glimpse of his deeper self (some might say soul), and to convey that in a photograph, are two parts of a profound experience. Some subjects, as you might imagine, will reveal little about themselves. Others are more open, and when you look into their eyes you get a real sense of who they are and the road they have travelled. In the former instance you photograph the subject’s appearance—what the eyes and hair look like, and so forth. In the latter you have an opportunity to capture the subject’s true self—what some may call their essence.
Eagle Dancers #2, Laguna Pueblo, 1962 by Lee Marmon, Center for Southwest Research, University of New Mexico
Laguna Pueblo: A Photographic History
Lee Marmon, Photographer and Tom Corbett, Writer
Published by the University of New Mexico Press, February 2015
Dimensions: approx. 8.75 x 10.25″ 224 pages
I have been a big fan of Lee Marmon’s photography ever since I saw his well-known photograph White Man’s Moccasins shortly after I arrived in Santa Fe. Over the years I have become more and more enchanted by his images. When I look at them, something in the chant from the Navajo Nightway ceremonial and its most salient phrase, “It is finished in beauty” comes to mind. I sense that’s its powerful meaning resonates within his beautiful photographs.
The Eyes of Duran, Winter, Duran, New Mexico 2015 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian
“A small town has as many eyes as a fly”
-Sonya Hartnett, author
Often when I am making photographs in a small village, particularly one I haven’t visited before, I have this very real sense that all eyes are on my every movement. This is understandable of course and I chalk it up to a time-honored tradition among villagers, particularly in remote places, of sometimes being wary of strangers when they come to town. You can never be too careful.
I have never quite been able to prove that I actually am being watched unless someone ventures outdoors and says hello or invites me to leave. However during a recent stop in the village of Duran located about a hundred miles southeast of Albuquerque, I finally confirmed what my finely tuned senses already knew. For it was here that I actually discovered the watchful eyes of this beautiful New Mexico village.
Apple iPhone 6 | Hipstamatic Tintype app
Gallery Exhibition, Images from my book Four & Twenty Photographs: Stories from Behind the Lens, Photograph ©Craig Varjabedian
“When buying from an artist/maker you’re buying more than just an object/painting. You are buying hundreds of hours of failures and experimentation. You are buying days, weeks and months of frustration and moments of pure joy. You aren’t just buying a thing. You are buying a piece of heart, part of a soul, a moment of someone’s life . . .”
—Rebekah Joy Plett, Artist
I am always grateful when someone purchases an original photograph of mine. If someone falls in love with an image that I made and is willing to lay down real money in order to take it home, it is an affirmation of my work. These customers are my supporters and my angels.
In my early days when print sales were few and far between, I was even more grateful when someone came along and purchased a print. I needed the affirmation even more in those days, and the sale proved to me that my work had value beyond the joy I experienced when I created it. It affirmed that what I had to say through the lens resonated with others.
Larry Lattman’s Geology Field Belt and Tools, White Sands National Monument, New Mexico 2014 Photograph by ©Craig Varjabedian. Photograph was made using an Apple iPhone 6 and was processed using nik’s excellent Analog Pro plugin.
I have always been fascinated with the tools that people use to accomplish their work. I love, for example, spending time at my friend Clint’s saddle shop studying and making photographs of the old tools he uses to craft his world-class saddles. And as a photographer, I certainly have my share of tools—from a cutting edge, Nikon high mega-pixel digital camera—really a computer of sorts—to a set of rare Carl Zeiss Protar view camera lenses, crafted by hand in Germany nearly a century ago.
Two Cameras: An Ebony 5×7 View Camera with Carl Zeiss Protar lens and a Nikon D810 digital camera with Nikon 24-70mm lens