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Angels On Fire
Photographs of Texas, New Mexico and Colorado 

Copyright 2002 by J R Compton: No reproduction in any medium without specific,
written permission from J R Compton. My latest email is always on the contact page.


We left Dallas on a Monday, escaped north and west up through
west Texas and this. I call it End of the Line Stop Sign.

Since people keep asking, I use a Sony F707 5-megapixel digital camera, always shooting at full resolution — although that's seriously reduced for images here on the web ( down to about 1/15 the resolution ). I rarely use the digital zoom; the camera's 5:1 optical zoom is plenty.

I bought this camera, because it has an excellent, fully adjustable white balance, perfect for shooting art under a variety of light sources, (which often vary from wall to wall in galleries ), although I use the 707 for all my shooting.

No film involved. It takes between fifteen minutes and a couple hours to process each image in Photoshop, where I adjust such aspects as contrast, color, composition and exposure. 


This is Hole in the Sky. No telling where it was, but all the images on this page are
in near precise chronological order. My guess is west Texas, or eastern New Mexico.



I'm a fan of Road Humps and other bumpies and road anomolies, so when I saw this optically illusory entity in the lot of a large gas station in eastermost New Mexico, I had to shoot it. 




This is the view from near the condo in Angel Fire, New Mexico, where I thought they were Resurfacing the Bunny Trail, but actually they'd had a bicycle gymkhana a week before we got there. Glad we missed any crowds.



Even closer to the condo. The first art photo I ever took and exhibited was of a staircase in an Irving apartment complex in shadowy black & white. Now a mere 38 years later, this luscious Sunset Staircase is rendered in living, late evening amber colors.


See the deer?

One of my favorite series going is Tanks & Towers. I haven't been showing them online, because I want to get them into competitive exhibitions, and I didn't want anyone to have already seen them ( although I'm obviously blowing their cover here ).

We walked up a long, up sloping meadow on the back side of Angel Fire Ski Resort toward this big tank. I shot it a half dozen times, and was back in the car descending back toward the condo, looking at what I'd shot and checking focus when I realized there's a deer in this photograph among all the trees, lifts and grass.



Often, to the dismay of whomever I'm with, I have to stop and take a few pictures of St. Francis church in Rancho de Taos whenever I go by that adobe edifice made altogether too famous by The American Painter Georgia O'Keefe. This time, I took the usual semi abstracts of the church, but I especially liked this ironic-ish juxtaposition I call Frank and The Magic Sky, which is an out of business bookstore across from the church.



What looks like a glorious, mushrooming cloud rising over the mountains, is actually the Smoke Plume from the Truchas fire near Santa Fe in mid June. Smoke from that fire and the several in Arizona stained our mountain watching activities and seared our eyes all through our western travels.

Thanks to Ray Gulick for setting me right about which fire.


On another trip through Rancho de Taos, I had to stop again. Took more pix of the church, and found these Blue Doors gushing brilliant daylight over and under, across the street from Frank's church.



As a photographer, I love odd juxtapositions and unique angles on everyday objects, like this Sidewalk in Denver, where we stayed on our way to get friends Lynn & Cryspian married in the mountains west of Golden. This is just outside the motel, in the parking lot. I love it for its rich colors and compressed viewpoint that reminds me so of the middle paintings of San Franscisco painter Wayne Thiebaud.




Cryspian and Lynn's wedding, outdoors, high in the grassy hills well west of Denver was a glorious occasion. Informal — Terry hitched in barefooted; magically spiritual — the preacher banged a drum and invoked blessings from the four directions. And I was barely able to walk, thanks to food poisoning from the night before.




I call this The Crack of Dusk. We were amazed at it driving back from Denver, somewhere along the high eastern New Mexico desert west of I-25. I woke up from my Altitude Sickness induced coma, and we photographed it. I for photographic prints and the web; she for an eventual painting. The crack ran miles and miles along the undulating western horizon. I thought I'd shot it entirely too many times, but now I wish I'd kept shooting till I'd captured all of it.




This is a Peeping Tom view of our Angel Fire neighbors' place, shot from our porch. The old guy holding a camera to his face, reflected in the window on the right side of this colorful, richly translucent still life is yours truly. The multi-layered image is now a certifiable member of my extensive Windows series.



One of the many Ski Lifts of Angel Fire, shot from down near the highway, looking sharply up into the smoke filled heights.




I'm a sucker for brilliantly colored flowers, and I always try to capture new and differing ones. I loved these vivid Angel Fire Flowers that seem to be a recognized symbol for the famous ski resort in summer.




A continuing fascination to photograph is everyday objects rendered as richly textured abstractions. We assumed the denizens of this group sized tent were fire fighters for the many blazes growing all around us. So it's a gentle documentation of the fires without getting all blatant or acquiring lungsfull of smoke. I can't wait to see this gem (Tent, Abstract) rendered in A3 size and framed on some gallery wall.

[It happened later, I don't remember where, but I still have the print, which is gorgeous.]




Only a few feet away from the tent above was this Untented Table. I like the lush, yet subtle scrub of tall green behind it, all pristine, angular and sharp. 



Angel Fire was named for molten sky sunsets like this one.




Rita's is still the best place for many varieties of Indian-flavored Mexican food around Taos. No AC inside and only a Porta Potty outside. But what a spectacular view to the smoke misted mountains beyond from the big umbrella tables.





A new series — Random Roadside — presented itself when my driver didn't understand or appreciate my constant and often sudden need to stop the car all along the ways to take solid, clear photographs of everything imaginable we found along the highways and byways.

So I just started popping the camera whenever the mood struck mek as we sped on our merry ways. These particular examples were entirely unplanned. And they are somewhat blurred and out of focus. And after I shot them, I lushed their already rich colors in Photoshop. But I like the way they turned out, all informal and quick, even though everything is not in focus or unblurred.




This is not quite Random but certainly Roadside. Roadside House Mountain sums how I feel about the homey landscape around Taos, New Mexico.



I'm sorry I clipped off the sign on the far right of this image, but you pretty much know what it looks like. I like all the arrows and bright colors, odd shapes and sudden drop off on the far end.




We did stop for this one — and many others, of course. Wonderful sculpture on the road to Taos. Almost as if this art stuff belongs there.




I don't think I'd want to live either down below, along Arroyo Secco or on the high road I shot it from — I much prefer the mountains and greener of upper elevations. But we were both fascinated by the high desert and lower lush landscape.




Sometimes — too often, really — New Mexico seems altogether too busy making fun of itself, as the kitschy colors and goofy concepts of this yard full — at the Stewart Bed & Breakfast — unsubtly attests. 





Most of our first week in the mountains was pretty dry, but the powers that be let up in the second week and doused us with rain, thundercloud rain and more rain. Nice clouds, too. Over our stay, I framed many different views of this little piece of land and sky Tween [ the ] Trees that flank the parking lot of these Chalets.




Not exactly sure why, but one of my favorite concepts to visualize is Cowboy Kitsch, of which there is an abundance in rural and mountainous New Mexico ( and the rest of The West. ) Yeah, Get Kist for a Nickel. Kitsch is free.




The best thing in a large, luridly colorful mural on the shady side of a truly kitsch-ful business in Cimmeron was this bird in The Attack of the Eyeshadowed Owl.




Oddly and unconsciously juxtaposed here is a buffalo painted black on a white latticed fence near a wonderful little concrete teepee wound all over with Christmas lights standing not far from a much larger, less lighted and much more colorful, stucco wigwam full of discarded power tools. That is, wonderful, from my odd aesthetic point of view. Most folks would agree, however, that it's utterly bizzare.






I had to stop and back up a lousy, lumpy, bumpy dirt road in Cimmeron — where we'd gone for adventure and kitsch — to get this wrinkly and brilliantly reflective semi abstraction. Obviously, it's a Reflecty Shed. Of course. But it's also an abstraction of home, the sun, simplified, separated life, self-reliance. And it speaks clearly of mountains and cold climate, and it's another unconscious juxtaposition with the symbolic, historic home above ... 



More Random Roadsiding. This is us shooting along some nauseasly winding mountain road at breakneck speed with my head and camera stuck out the passenger side window with the lens swiveled upward shooting at clouds directly overhead, prefocused to infinity, so firing the trigger actually shoots the picture within miliseconds, just hoping to capture the right complement of dark conical shapes at the base, so you'd know what these Fat Round Rain Cloud images are of. 




The condo didn't afford a great view of the often spectacularly setting sun. But if you've got a decent telephoto lens and are willing to lean out, off the deck a bit, and watch carefully a tiny speck of sky through some trees, you will be Rewarded. 




We saw a lot of local flora and fauna. Two coyotes — one carrying a smallish rabbit off into the bush. Multiples of strange — to us — birds and slithery things. A half dozen deer — I slow raced one along the side of a windy mountain road I was driving.

We saw it immediately, nearly filling our windshield and collective awareness, big and close on the right side of the road. I kept getting slower, then he'd slow, then I would. Till he finally figured he could easily escape, so he bound across the road in front of us and off into the safety of the forest. We often wish we had video of that event.

But, for a long time, no bears. Although we found their scat in the middle of roads on morning dog walks and their messes near unlatched dumpsters in the neighborhood. No bears till I ascended the heights of Angel Fire to get an aerial view of the city from the far side [below].

I slow rounded a high grade curve in broad daylight, looked up and saw J R's Bear standing at rest in the middle of the road, in a not unpopulated residential area. He was a teenager out for a romp and more afraid of me than I was of him, although I allowed him his distance... 


Angel Fire from Above 




Every time I get near the National Vietnam Memorial Chapel and Memorial itself [below] high over Angel Fire, I go obsessive. When I shot film (before six years ago), I shot way too much of it. Now on high-res digital, I filled two sticks with image after image of much the same thing. Nothing exceeds like excess....




Except that it got me in the mood to shoot about six different versions of this complexly personal, densely layered and autobiographically involving image, which looks like a collage, but it's really a direct shot of transclucent maps and opaque pictures, reflected reality, silhouettes and shadows. I call it Autobiography of a Viet Nam Veteran, of which I am one. Which probably explains why I get so carried away everytime I'm therel.

When I get it printed big, viewers will be able to read much of the historically informative text, most of the map (including many places I visited then) and piece together a lot of the disparate shards of this image, that fits ideally into my Windows series.

I should admit that I didn't think about most of this stuff while I was shooting me standing there in the big middle of the maproom doorway. It seemed perfectly natural, normal to me. Obvious...