February 26, 2012     Friday Night Lights

David Frank, photographer

I reported a pair of Raton stories Friday night for next week's The Chronicle-News, after spending the late afternoon taking photographs for an upcoming magazine feature (see today's TKP Blog for some samples).

David Frank's HDR image, "Johnson Mesa Church," won Best of Show at the 6th Annual Ralph Solano Memorial Photography Exhibit and Sale, at the Old Pass Gallery. David's a fine photographer who, at his Frank Images business in Trinidad, does 95% of my photographic printing, always with top professional quality.

Pandora's Box at Shuler Theater

From the Old Pass Gallery I hustled over to The Shuler Theater to photograph and review the annual children's production, which was "Once Upon a Pandora's Box." It was so zany, all over the stage, that I thought I might have a hard time writing the review, but Saturday morning I found myself enjoying the writing and liking the result. In a fun twist, Christina was in Santa Fe Friday night but she caught the Saturday night performance and will write her own review for the KRTNradio.com website: I look forward to seeing how hers differs from mine. One advantage of KRTN's feature: I've provided them with four photos, whereas the Chronicle only prints one image these days, so I've stopped sending them more than that. (Under previous leadership, the Chronicle would often include 3-5 of my images with theater reviews.) Check both sites this week to compare reviews, but find more photos at KRTN. Enjoy.




February 18, 2012     Celebrating Poetry, Youth, and The Word

Clair Willden at Poetry Out Loud, Santa Fe 2012Clair Willden at Poetry Out Loud, Santa Fe 2012

I try to blog both here and on the photography side at least once a week; during the school year, it's usually on the weekends. I missed last weekend for a variety of reasons, but the best are:
1) fog froze into thick ice on power lines which were then stressed by high winds, breaking 19 poles(!) and leaving us without electricity from Saturday night to Sunday night; and
2) Christina and I spent all of Sunday traveling to Santa Fe and back for the New Mexico finals of the Poetry Out Loud competition, where my student Clair Willden excelled (above). A freshman, she was the youngest competitor to ever reach the New Mexico final.

Clair Willden at Poetry Out Loud, Santa Fe 2012

Each of the ten state finalists performed three poems from memory, and yes, the verb performed is appropriate: these were not mere memorizations and recitations. The students mesmerized listeners as they brought each poem to vivid life, easily holding our concentrated attention for two hours. The poems were selected from the national program's online archive of more than 600 richly rewarding poems.

Clair's performances were impressive; everyone I talked with felt that she scored within the top half or third of the field. We were proud and thrilled that the winner was from our remote rural corner of the state: Clayton High School junior Stephanie Garcia shined in earning her win, which will take her to the national competition in Washington, D.C., May 13-15, where she'll represent New Mexico against 52 other states and territories. We're well represented.

Levi Romero, New Mexico Centennial Poete

I was excited to see my friend Levi Romero there to give the keynote address as our New Mexico Centennial Poet. I once spent several days over each of two summers, in Taos and then Albuquerque, working with and learning from Levi in UNM's summer writing workshops for English teachers. Although St. Francis Auditorium was full of people, Levi addressed his inspiring comments directly at the ten young competitors, thanking them for carrying on the power of the word, challenging them to continue their reading and writing and speaking into the future. Levi closed with a poem from his book, A Poetry of Remembrance.

There's two inches of fresh snow on the ground this morning, but clear blue skies above, and I'm again busy with projects, including two for New Mexico Magazine...but more on those later. There's plenty of time.



Anthony Shadid, 1968-2012



February 4, 2012     Riding the Recession

Raton Depot

My entry into freelance professional writing and photography coincided precisely with the arrival of what's now sometimes being called The Great Recession, and I've done well considering that three years later we're still in the same recession. All of the periodicals I work with have struggled to ride out the weak economy and the accompanying changes in publishing as the Internet displaces print media. Their contributors, the writers and photographers, have struggled right along with them as work and payment have become harder to come by.

New Mexico Magazine experienced a bloodletting last year when the state gained a new cost-cuttiing Republican governor, and after two well-received major features early last year, I went a year without any work from the magazine. (Read today's TKP Blog for a deeper discussion of the economics of the magazine and its annual Vacation Guide.) Now I have a 4-page "Road Trip: Heart of the Hi Lo" feature coming up in the May issue and I expect to start work this month on a 6-page "Destination: Raton" feature for the September issue. Maybe things are getting better.

Makayla Mondragon, Tucker Berry, FCCLA Chocolate Factory 2012

The Chronicle-News last summer eliminated its coverage of Raton and New Mexico, cutting me out completely. Fortunately, my work was missed and in November the paper asked me to resume arts coverage from the New Mexico side of the Raton Pass; then, last month, they asked me to go back to reporting anything and everything. I just submitted a preview of this year's 2nd annual all-you-can-eat Chocolate Factory, which will again be hosted at Raton High School on Valentine's Day by state FCCLA officers Makayla Mondragon and Tucker Berry (above).

Marcia Hefker by Tim Keller

Western Horseman closed its Colorado Springs offices after 75 years to consolidate its operations in Ft. Worth, jettisoning longtime editor A.J. Mangum, who went on to edit the new Ranch & Reata, which has just published its third Tim Keller feature, "Doctoring Cowboys," a profile of my longtime doctor, Marcia Hefker (right), who also figured prominently in my "Arabian Wind" feature last August in Western Horseman. Ranch & Reata still appears to be struggling despite its extraordinary quality: each issue is truly a collector's classic with the beautifully designed quality of a fine coffee table book.

Although teaching remains immensely satisfying and fulfilling, I've come to feel dependent on my writing and photography: I'm happiest when I have work in the publishing pipeline and new projects lined up ahead of me. Where I used to enjoy my free mornings drinking coffee while reading books on the living room couch, now I prefer to start right here at my work station, writing and working with my photographs. As the national news reports continuing signs of the recession easing, I'm suddenly finding more work. Here's hoping that the trend continues.




January 29, 2012     Standing Up and Speaking Out

Megan HollandMariah Fleming
James Neary
Chelsea Chavez

My students made me proud this week when a dozen of them -- freshmen, juniors, and seniors -- participated in the 15th Annual Oratorical Contest at Raton's Shuler Theater. After reporting last year's contest for The Chronicle-News, I made a personal commitment to encourage my own students to enter the public speaking contest this year and into the future.

James Neary, Shuler Theater

Students wrote their own essays and then delivered them in speeches lasting 2-4 minutes. Every year there's a required theme; this year it was "Life is a Song Title." My students have developed into good writers, and it showed.

Pictured at the top, clockwise from top left, are seniors Megan Holland, Mariah Fleming, Chelsea Chavez, and James Neary. That's James again, alone on a big stage, and junior Marisa McCarty below on the left. (As always, click any photo or name to see an enlarged image.) Senior Blake Washburn is pictured below right. My other participating Raton High School students were Amy Grubelnik, Bryan Berry, Caylene Romero, Justin Apodaca, Matthew Ortiz, and Natale Castellini. (I also enjoyed watching and hearing the junior division students from Raton Middle School, knowing they'll soon be in my honors freshman English classes.)

Marisa McCarty, Oratorical Contest, Shuler TheaterWhile the contest went beautifully overall, and every teen entered was impressive, there were some glitches in the production which I discuss in my Chronicle-News article. They included not only inexcusable distractions to the students' concentration and to the audience's attention, but also some judging irregularities. I'm hoping that my inclusion of the issues in the article will help to assure that they won't happen again.

Blake Washburn

Maxwell sophomore Thomas Casper delivered a masterful speech to capture first place, with Chelsea Chavez second and James Neary third. Of 22 senior entries, 10 scored above 90% and the judges had to confer to break at least one tie.

But many in the audience expressed shock that Marisa McCarty was not included in the winner's circle. One parent of a winning student said it best in an e-mail to me the next day: "Marisa's memorable speech was brilliant, well-written, creative, funny and poignant - truly award winning." I couldn't agree more. I assumed that she had won. Even Maxwell's coach told me after the event that he had scored all the speeches himself and he had Marisa winning. Alas.

Congratulations to all the students who participated: you made us all proud.




January 22, 2012     "Few Doors Remain Closed Forever"

Maggie Honeyfield, B&W portrait by Tim Keller

The Chronicle-News has asked me to return to reporting from Raton and northeastern New Mexico. After contributing 200 features over 30 months, I was cut last summer when the paper decided to end New Mexico coverage. In November the Louisiana owner wrote to say he missed my writing and photography: would I contribute Raton arts coverage for the paper's Colorado readers? This week the editor told me he could use more content, "so anything else you can think of to write about, do it." I don't mind if I do! As my friend Mike Schoonover responded to this, "Few doors remain closed forever." It was exactly two weeks ago, in the January 8 blog below, that I bemoaned winter doldrums and missing work from the Chronicle and New Mexico Magazine; now I'm back to producing work for both.

So I'm again beating the bushes for stories. The first I found was my student Maggie Honeyfield (above) who has just landed a full-ride all-expenses-paid scholarship to study and play college softball for Trinidad State Junior College, or TSJC. I enjoyed interviewing her Friday; it was a reversal of roles: for the past three years she's had to listen to me! Maggie spoke of how she learned her work ethic, and how she reads a pitch from centerfield to get a jump on fielding the ball when it comes her way. I put both in my Chronicle feature.

She started working on construction sites with her contractor father when she was five years old. She opened a bank account with her earnings when she was in first grade. She bought her own tools and created her own workshop when she was in fifth grade. She deadpans, "I wasn't raised like a normal girl."

Her greatest selling point to the TSJC softball coach was her leg speed, with which she makes centerfield a smaller piece of real estate than it is for slower fielders. I enjoyed hearing Maggie tell how the centerfielder has to "cover" both the shortstop and the second baseman as well as the right fielder and left fielder. She watches the pitcher and the pitch to see where the ball is going and how it's spinning, so before it's even hit she can anticipate where it's going and start getting there.

Paying her own way through college, she's using her softball talents to finance an education, after which she plans a career in construction management...in some place where it's warmer than here at the edge of the Rocky Mountains.

I enjoyed making my portrait of Maggie. The Chronicle will publish a color version, but I'll stand by the black & white photo above. Either way, thanks to Maggie for providing me a good re-entry to reporting on Raton for the Chronicle.




January 21, 2012      A Drug Store Soda Fountain

Springer Drug soda fountain

The manuscript for my "Road Trip: Heart of the Hi Lo" went off to New Mexico Magazine by e-mail days ago and today's outgoing snail mail will carry the disc containing 36 hi-res images of Springer, Clayton, the Volcano Triangle communities of Des Moines, Capulin, and Folsom, Capulin Volcano, Johnson Mesa, and Raton. Art director Fabian West will select images and design the page layouts that will appear in the magazine's May issue, which will arrive around April 15.

I did the final photography Monday afternoon in Springer, where my favorite shot turned out to be this image inside the old-fashioned soda fountain at Springer Drug. They'd closed the fountain at 4 and we were there at 4:30, but the gal behind the counter opened it enough to make Christina a root beer float and let me take pictures to look like it was open. The joyful expressions of the two gals make the image. I wanted to show that the pharmacy counter is right across from the fountain. As it turned out, this shot got the right shoulder of the pharmacist at work, a fortunate catch since he spent most of his time farther to the right. In retrospect, I wish I'd asked him to work down where he'd be fully in my frame, although I think this half-a-pharmacist works well in its own way.

Springer Museum

I also shot Jespersen's Cache & Trucking, an old blacksmith shop, and The Brown Hotel & Cafe, of which only the Brown shots were good enough to submit to the magazine. But I like this photo of the Santa Fe Trail Interpretive Center & Museum, looking very dramatic in the deep day-end shadows. The ground was coated with a thick slab of slick ice, so I was gingerly moving in and out of position to take this and other shots.

The editor is now likely to order up some revision in my manuscript, but the next I'll see my photos will be when they come out in the May issue and I'm able to see Fabian's layouts and design, always gorgeous...but that's a three month wait, a great opportunity to practice patience.




January 15, 2012      Ask and Ye Shall Receive

Clayton Welcome Sign, New Mexico

Wow, I guess that last blog (just below) was pretty powerful! Three days after I committed to finding more work, New Mexico Magazine booked me to create a travel piece for the May issue. With a deadline at the end of this month, I had to jump right on it. This morning I wrote a 999-word draft, comfortably under my 1000-word limit. Now it goes to the associate editor for notes and revision.

It'll be a four-page Road Trip feature, probably called "Heart of the Hi Lo," covering 180 miles from Springer to Clayton, the Volcano Triangle villages of Des Moines, Capulin, and Folsom, then on to Raton via Johnson Mesa. It includes natural and historical landmarks along with key stops along the way for lodging, food, shopping, and sightseeing.

Luna Theater, Clayton NM

I have plenty of photography from throughout the Hi Lo Country, but I'll need more from the towns of Clayton and Springer. I spent yesterday afternoon shooting Clayton; I'll shoot downtown Springer tomorrow afternoon.

I'm sharing a pair of the new Clayton images here and another pair over on the photography blog. I had a good time exploring Clayton with my camera, enjoying conversations with Victoria Baker at the Herzstein Memorial Museum and 86-year-old Bess Isaacs at 114-year-old R.W. Isaacs Hardware Co. Bess offered to share stories with any visitors I send, but she pointed out that Thursday is her day off.

Because the new Ranch & Reata still hasn't arrived, I just managed to keep alive my streak of always having new material in the publishing pipeline for more than three years running. And New Mexico Magazine has given me a heads-up for a full-length feature coming soon. I guess my winter hibernation is over.




January 8, 2012      Hibernation Versus Tree Climbing

Snow Bears by Tim Keller
I guess it shouldn't be surprising when winter brings a relative lack of activity -- in the community and in me. I haven't seen anything to be out photographing or writing, and the snow has covered the land in a way that makes hiking a challenge. Django and I finally got out yesterday, hiking to the top of Carr Mountain for the first time since before Thanksgiving, but now I have an hour ahead of me brushing dried mud from Django's long black hair. Alas. Outside, it's snowing again.

I'm not complaining! Having grown up by the beach in southern California, I chose to live where there is a real winter. I like having four distinct seasons, and I like each of them. I've taken advantage of the winter doldrums to read a big stack of books that had built up since summer. I read on the long couch by the blazing woodstove with its glass front door, a little slice of heaven. Now I'm raiding the bookshelves and rereading books I haven't opened in decades. (This morning I started a 1949 Raymond Chandler novel, The Little Sister. Maybe I'm not entirely over California after all.)

A long slack time like this generally has the benefit of giving me pent up energy and the drive to move forward with renewed ambition. I'm feeling it. When my feature on Marcia Hefker comes out any day now in Ranch & Reata, I'll have no new work in the pipeline for the first time in three years. (I'll have a photo in the 2012 New Mexico Vacation Guide, but that will be out any day now, too.) Time to start hustling again. I've already picked all of the low hanging fruit, so I'll need to work harder to get farther up the tree: finding the next stories will be more challenging, but I'm looking.

Tim Keller in Ranch & Reata, on Facebook

Speaking of Ranch & Reata, yesterday I stumbled upon its Facebook page and discovered that they'd posted, on their Wall back in August, the text page of "Tim Keller: On Telling Stories with a Camera." Thanks to editor A.J. Mangum for the wonderful blurb, "See the West through the eyes of one of the culture's best documentary photographers." The magazine, with the beauty and quality of a coffee-table book, is due out with its fifth issue and my feature, which had a working title of "Marcia Hefker - Doctoring Cowboys." (I never know whether my title will be changed until I see the feature published.) I'm hoping to have it posted here by next weekend.

With this posting, I begin my fourth full year of blogging. Winter isn't going away anytime soon, but I'll be out climbing higher branches, looking for new stories. Meantime, I'm enjoying new activity at my photography show "Tim Keller's New Mexico" at Raton's Holiday Inn Express. There's no closing date -- it'll be up indefinitely -- and I've just hung three new images to replace older ones that had sold. As pieces sell, I'll keep replacing them with new work and I find that fun and exciting. It also keeps the show fresh and evolving: if you're in the area, I hope you'll stop by and give it a look.




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