If we’re honest we will all admit to having heard something go bump in the night. Chills race down our backs! Or a shadow races around the room and makes our our mouths go dry. It’s human nature to be wary of the unknown. Hollywood has tapped into our fear factor and made billions off horror movies. The big screen gives us just the right amount of shiver. We’re ever so grateful we’re not the idiots going into the darkened spooky house. We’re not the shivering girl standing alone in the hall listening to footsteps on the stairs. And haven’t most of us – at least once, if briefly – seen inexplicable lights dart across the night sky?
In Eerie New Mexico, author Ray John de Aragon delves into events that have happened over the years that make us think twice.
“Did that really happen?”
“Did I really see that?”
“Are my troubles the result of getting the Evil Eye?”
Well, okay you probably don’t think about that last one, but maybe you should. In Eerie New Mexico, the author explores superstition, the unusual, the supernatural, and old wives’ tales that seem to have a grain of truth, or as the very least, send a cautionary message.
Inter-mixed with history, he recounts folklore passed down from generation to generation, altered and embellished over time. Some tales have the charm of a scary story told around the camp fire. Others cause an in-drawn breath of horror. De Aragon weaves historical fact into the narrative while calling attention to rituals and celebrations based on a deep belief in the spiritual, the unexplained and the unknowable.
So, dig into the Wonders of the Invisible World with tales of Mal Ojo, Bolas de Lumbre, Raising the Dead (it may not be what you’re thinking), the Dark Side of the Moon and Children of the Stars. Check out the Mystical Missions with stories of Spirit Master, A Holy Ghost, Mystical Hermit (think Hermit’s Peak), Ascending Spirits, the Passage to Strangeness (corridos el muerto had me closing the book and regrouping), New Mexico’s Inner Superstitions, and the morality tale of Patas Chuecas.
This is a lively book, despite there being a lot about death, but as the author wrote in the section entitled, Homeland Overview, “Everything in existence is interconnected and interrelated between life and death.”
At 150 pages, it’s a quick read chock full of interesting tales and lots of New Mexico’s forgotten or ignored history.
Eerie New Mexico is published by History Press and sells for $21.99. It will be available for purchase after its release date of Sept. 22.
Zoom in to an interview with the author on Sunday, Sept. 27, 4-5 p.m. Registration is required. Please register below. You will be sent a link to the Zoom event, A visit with the author, Ray John de Aragon.
Thank you for being a reader/subscriber. It is my goal to present informative, interesting and creative content on this site. Your likes, shares and comments are welcomed and hugely appreciated. I am an indie author of six books and two chap books of poetry. Check the BOOKS tab to find out more. Follow me at www.vandermeerbooks.com, https://www.facebook.com/vandermeerbooks, Amazon Author Central. I frequently write about my town, Las Vegas, N.M.Occasionally I use interesting and helpful content from other sources. I also invite guest posts. If you have a topic you would like to share, send to fsharon@msn. com.
Ray John de Aragón is a writer who uses careful research and stories to bring life to New Mexico’s deep and wide history, whether he is delving into fiction, writing nonfiction, or creating a melding of the two. De Aragon broadens the horizon of his prose in every book he writes. He is prolific and dedicated, taking storytelling to the next level. History is the story of a people, a region, an event. In the foreword to New Mexico in the Mexican-American War, by Ray John de Aragon, former first lady of New Mexico Clara Apodaca writes: New Mexico Hispanic women have blazed trails in all walks of life – government, business, education, the arts and the military… The myths this book shatters will hopefully lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the real history.
In this Q&A, author de Aragon talks about his latest book and his journey as an accomplished author of history, myth and the magic of New Mexico.
Q: Talk briefly about what you’re doing now, in addition to writing. Ray John: Right now I’m only concentrating on my writing. I’m at the point in my career that national editors as well as publishers are very interested in my work, and that is quite exciting.
Q: What drew you to write about New Mexico legends, history and folklore? Ray John: Coming from northern New Mexico I grew up hearing about our Hispanic heritage, history culture and traditions. I decided that writing about the history, folklore and legends that have been passed down for many generations in local families should be my focal point.
Q: How do you carve out time to write when you are already busy with other work? Ray John: I am a full time writer. Turnaround on my books from conception to release is six months. I have two other contracts. I have eighteen published books that sell quite well. That keeps me very busy.
Q: Which is the most exciting, the writing or the research? Ray John: Both the research and the writing is just as exciting. Finding material that has not been previously published, and getting these new findings out to the public eye is truly fruitful. Especially so, when I receive great reviews on my work, and pleasant comments.
Q: What have you learned about yourself in the course of developing story or project lines? Ray John: I’ve learned that my writing skills have developed professionally. I published my first book nationally when I was 28. I listened to and followed the excellent advice I was given by S. Omar Barker and other established authors, and got published. I feel I have grown in my work to the point that my writing pretty much goes directly from writing to publishing.
Q: You are an oral storyteller in addition to being a writer. Which is more challenging? Ray John: Both working as a presenter and writing are very challenging. I get tremendous joy from both when I accomplish what I have set out to do. For example, if a presentation is followed by enthusiastic questions, loud applause, and great comments after, that is very enjoyable and very satisfying.
Q: Which do you get the most enjoyment from and why? Ray John: My New Mexico history books are centered on correcting much of the misinformation, fabrications, falsehoods, and fiction that has been passed on by previous writers as historic fact about the Spanish/Mexican history and eras of our state. I wrote about New Mexico in the Mexican American War to clear up this distorted history.
Q: Some of the illustrations note they are from The Author’s Collection. How does collecting historical memorabilia help you in writing? Ray John:I have always been interested in historic photos, images, diaries, and documents. When I was eleven years old my father had a large case with family photos from Las Vegas, NM and environs, and documents and papers dating as far back as the eighteenth century. Once when my folks were not at home, I took this case down from a high shelf and went through them. My father got home and caught me. Rather than being punished, he said if I was interested I could have them. I have been collecting since then. Many of those first family photos and documents are in my books.
Q: What do you want your readers to know about you? Ray John: I like for my readers to know that I have always striven to reveal the truth about our history, not the wild ideas someone came up with at one time that has been rewritten, or quoted by others and then endlessly perpetuated. They also theorize about what may have happened, rather than spend hours researching.
Q: More about your writing experience and where your books may be purchased.
Ray John: My books are available on-line, through national book chains, through New Mexico state local bookstores, or as E-books.
The book I’m completing now is New Mexico Land Theft, a History of Fraud and Deceit. I believe this will be another eye-opener. I like for people to also read the actual words from both the protagonists and the antagonists in my books. Thereby they can reach their own conclusions, not the biased and prejudiced interpretations written by many others. When I read what Abraham Lincoln said about the War with Mexico, I was stunned. I just had to quote his words.
Last October when my Haunted Santa Fe was released, I had thirteen book signings, four radio shows, two TV shows, and I was covered by several national publications. The most in one month in my career. This July I’m featured in Albuquerque Magazine and I have four out-of-state book signings.
If you like historical novels, you will thoroughly enjoy Prairie Madness – Conspiracy at Fort Union, by Edwina Romero. If you like a plain old good read, you are in for a treat.
Romero has blended history and mystery to write an intriguing puzzle surrounding the death of personable Sean Flannery, a first sergeant at Fort Union in the late 1800s. The story involves the complex social structure of fort life with its military personnel, civilian workers, and privately-owned trader’s store. The ever-present winds sigh and bluster across the barren landscape, lending a haunting backdrop to this story of two women and the men in their lives.
Forget stereotypes, with washer women being the low rung on the social ladder, and think instead of the hardy women who ended up at the edges of the wild west. Their resilience is the true story behind this window on the past.
When army laundress Mary Margaret O’Keenan learns Sean is dead, she is convinced from the get-go that it was no accident. Who took the life of the man she had come to love? Mary Margaret intends to find out, ready to confront authority and bring to light clues she comes upon in her determined investigation.
Despite threats and pushback from military officials, she forges ahead with the unlikely but welcome help of Olivia Foote, wife of the post’s contract trader, a man whose motives appear to be less than honorable.
Mary Margaret and Olivia form a bond of trust and friendship that helps them in their pursuit of truth. The historical facts and setting take the reader back to an era when changes were underway for forts across the country. Howling winds batter at adobe walls and trickle through the mind, perhaps scouring away sober judgment and replacing it with the bare bones of greed and self-interest.
Place and character define a good story. In Prairie Madness, these elements are woven together beautifully. The tale moves apace revealing a conspiracy that reaches right into the office of the fort’s commanding officer and beyond.
Mary Margaret has good instincts, but deciding whom to trust isn’t easy. All she knows for sure is that the facts of Sean Flannery’s death must be revealed and the culprit brought to justice.
Paper Trail in Las Vegas, NM, will host a book signing on Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m., featuring Romero and Prairie Madness – Conspiracy at Fort Union. The book is also available online in paperback and Kindle format.
It’s that time of year when ghosties, goblins and ghouls come out of the woodwork. Literally according to Haunted Santa Fe, a historical overview of legends and lore born of real people living real lives, and then in the afterlife returning with spectral visitations that make things go bump in the night.
What I like about Ray John de Aragón’s wonderful book is how he ties history to these legendary figures. His richly told accounts stir the mind to a time long before statehood, when many cultures were streaming into New Mexico to join the native peoples already here, not always with favorable outcomes. The tales recounted in Haunted Santa Fe reveal that cultural montage with Martyr Mysteries, Koko Man, Julia Staab, the Forlorn Spirit, La Llorona, and Billy Bonney’s Ghost, among others.
He is an educator who uses stories to bring life to northern New Mexico’s deep and wide history, whether he is delving into fiction, writing nonfiction, or creating a melding of the two. The most interesting tales come from a grain of truth. Aragon broadens the horizon of his prose in Haunted Santa Fe to engage the reader and perhaps elicit a shiver or two.
A native Las Vegan, he brings authenticity to his work by drawing on his roots and remembered stories told to him by elders in his family over the years. Haunted Santa Fe is one of fifteen books he has authored. He has written for or been featured in more than one hundred publications.
As a traveling storyteller, Aragón has thrilled audiences with his frightening and enthralling tales of ghosts and the supernatural. Holding advanced degrees in Spanish colonial history, arts, legends and myths of New Mexico, he has presented on these topics for the New Mexico History Museum, the Museum of International Folk Art, the National Hispanic Cultural Center, the University of New Mexico, the College of Santa Fe and many more. His books are available at online retailers or in bookstores.
It has been a long time in the making, but Las Vegas, NM, 1835 – 1935 is now out and ready for purchase. The price, $39.95, and well worth the investment. It began as the germ of an idea and transformed into a gem of a book. More than 150 pages packed with historical photos, essays, maps and images.
On the flyleaf, Friends of the Museum supporter and bibliophile Nancy Colalillo writes, “… here is our origin story, the birth of Las Vegas, NM. The original Las Vegas as most residents will tell you. Within these pages are the answers to who, why, and how.”
Who were the early leaders, movers and shakers of Las Vegas? Why did development progress in the way it did? How did multicultural influences come together to create the Las Vegas of today? You can find the answers in this beautifully constructed book that covers 100 years of Las Vegas, NM.
This ll” x ll” publication might be looked upon as a coffee table book, interesting to look at and a bit of a conversation starter, but it is also an historical record that is enlightening and entertaining.
“It’s all here: The Spanish explorers and pioneers, the wagon trains, the Rough Riders, the Harvey Girls, the outlaws and desperadoes and ranching legends,” wrote Hampton Sides, best selling author of Blood and Thunder. His review is one of several by noted historians cited on the book’s back cover.
In her summary statement about the book, editor Edwina Portelle Romero writes that Las Vegas, NM, 1835 – 1935 is a snapshot of the 100-year period covered by the book. “…revealed through photographs, each capturing a single moment in time, frozen and selected by a human being… All photographs were selected by Las Vegans of today looking back, reflecting, making sense of the past and its people.”
How the book came together through the agency of a committee peopled by different volunteers over a span of time is a testament to the dedication of the Friends to make sure this story was told in this way. It is a book worth buying. Currently it is available at the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection gift shop.
“How can the Friends (of the City of Las Vegas Museum) help to get this important resource more accessible to the public?” That was the question board members considered when they discovered the museum had many archived historical photos in its possession, mostly in storage. The journey to create a photo book to achieve that goal began in 2009. Board chair Bob Mishler said the expectation is that Las Vegas, New Mexico – 1835-1935, sponsored by the Friends of the City of Las Vegas Museum, will be printed by April 2018. A discussion on exact price of the book – expected to be between $39.95 and $44.95 – is underway, and will be announced soon.
Mishler credits author/editor Edwina P. Romero (Patti), and dynamic interaction with selected members of the subcommittee, with the book’s evolution into a more interpretative offering of Las Vegas’ first century. “The various descriptive bits and pieces were woven into a tapestry of people and lifestyles,” he said. “It became more of a social and cultural ethnographic record of the people of early Las Vegas as documented through time.”
Romero’s education includes a BA at California State University Dominguez Hills, an MA at New Mexico Highlands University, and her Ph.D. at the University of New Mexico. She describes herself as a mother, author, former Assistant Professor, former academic administrator, and former horse trainer.
In the following Q&A, she talks about her experiences working on the Las Vegas photo book.
ORP: How did you become involved in the Las Vegas photo book project? Patti: The early concept for this book came about while I was working at the City of Las Vegas Museum (CLVM). The book sub-committee of the Friends of the City of Las Vegas Museum and Rough Rider Memorial Collection (Friends) met at the CLVM. As an employee, I was aware of the project as one of several museum activities. Then, because I was familiar with the Museum’s photograph collection, I was given the task of searching that collection for images to add to the book.
Several years later, Bob Mishler (Friends chair), contacted me about writing extended historical captions. When I delved into the possibilities of taking on this project, I saw that the task required large-scale organization and editing to determine the best, most accurate way to approach the captions. So I submitted a proposal to do the work.
ORP: What appealed to you about working on this project, which was in development when you took it on? Patti: First, the photographs themselves grabbed me. My first books, Footlights in the Foothills, Amateur Theatre of Las Vegas and Fort Union, New Mexico, 1871-1899, and Cowboy Reunions of Las Vegas, New Mexico, examine two aspects of Las Vegas history, but these period photographs show the larger context—the bigger picture in which amateur theatre and ranch life had taken place.
The second thing—I have to admit—was the challenge. The project had been in the works for several years, but work on it had been suspended for awhile. I saw great potential in publishing a book using period photos to reveal as much of the fascinating history of Las Vegas as could be contained within the limits of a book.
ORP: What was the driving force behind the project in its early stages? How has that changed, or has it? Patti:I was not directly involved in the early stages of the project, which involved several people and a Friends book sub-committee. When I got involved, it seemed that the original concept was oriented toward the film industry while telling the history of Las Vegas. During the early stages, fourteen historical essays from several historians as well as narratives and photographs from community members—all solicited by the Friends—had been approved, adding a heavier focus on history.
My driving force, keeping the book sub-committee’s objectives and previous work in mind, was to put the materials into a book that people would want to read, enjoy, and learn from. I proposed to narrow the approach to a specific historical time frame—1835-1935—and a specific location—the communities of Las Vegas. Also, I made showcasing the CLVM’s historical photograph collection a priority, and I suggested adding images and topics for side bars—biographical profiles and short write-ups of events.
ORP: Talk about the photo selection process. I understand that in addition to selecting the photos, research to determine source and attribution was required. What was that like? Patti:Criteria for selection included aesthetics, time period, relevance to the major topics within the book’s time period, authenticity, and availability. Once images met these criteria, they needed to “pass inspection” by the book designer, in other words: Would the photos reproduce well?
For me, the toughest parts of selection—and de-selection—were determining dates, authenticity, and origins, and securing permission to publish copyrighted images/narratives. Next came matching photos with the ongoing narrative of the people and events in the history of Las Vegas from 1835 to1935. This involved long hours examining notes written on the photos, the data from the repositories about the photos, historical books and narratives, and what the image itself indicated through clothing, vehicles, background buildings, etc. The copyrights for several images were held by individuals, it was often hard to find these people to get their permission. Fortunately, throughout the project, I had the help of staff members and volunteers.
ORP: As the author-editor, what were your priorities when you first became involved? Patti: I wanted to make this book pop.
When I began work, materials for the book included several hundred photo-copied images (many duplicates) from a variety of repositories and covering many historical periods and geographical locations—in addition to fourteen essays, assorted narratives and notes (authors unidentified), and historical materials from community members.
My priorities began by getting familiar with all this stuff, finding the best way to present it to readers, while at the same time, honoring the known and unknown histories of Las Vegas and making it a “good read.”
ORP: There are historical essays, and of course photo captions. What were the sources of information to flesh out the book’s content? Patti: The historian-authors’ essays include sources cited or consulted.
For the extended historical captions, sidebars, and introductory materials, I consulted the following: published books and articles, newspaper accounts, the Internet, the notes and essays that were part of the boxes of materials the sub-committee gave me, unpublished works and old histories in the CLVM archives, Donnelly Library, Carnegie Library, and various New Mexico state records data bases. In addition, I talked to people.
ORP: In what ways has the graphic designer (Kenesson Design, Inc.) been helpful in organizing the book’s visual appeal and presentation? Patti: First, Kristin Kenesson approved for publication the selected images. Sometimes, she added images from her stock that would further enhance the appearance. She designed the layout, color scheme, and various fonts for the type—all beautiful. She often asked good questions about Las Vegas, which sometimes pointed to a need for more detail. And, because of her visual arts background, she provided options for ways to express history, which were both challenging and affirming.
ORP: Although the book was in process when you contracted with the Friends, there was still a vast amount of information in need of organizing or prioritizing. What was most important to you at the outset of your involvement? Patti: The human side of history. I kept it in mind as I organized, re-organized, selected material and photos—and discarded others. During this part of the process, I constantly reminded myself that the story is about the people of Las Vegas—to whom the book is dedicated.
ORP: What is the most compelling reason for people to buy this book? Patti:It’s big, beautiful, and readable, and it tells stories of Las Vegas and its people.
ORP: What is the one thing you got out of this experience that will stay with you in your life and writing career? Patti:This is my “last hurrah!” What will stay with me as I return to fiction-writing are the rewards of personal perseverance and accepting the help of others. I learned to co-ordinate and co-operate with staff, volunteers, a book designer, committee members, sponsors—and interviewers. A writer does not always write alone.
Photo Credit Romero: David P. Pascale
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It has been years in the making, but the book of historical Las Vegas photos, sponsored by the Friends of the City of Las Vegas Museum, is in the final stage of approval for publication. This has been a long process and a costly one, but the Friends had a worthy goal in mind and set forth with determination. The following is a reprint, used with permission, of the a Friends’ article from the winter issue of the organization’s newsletter, which outlines the journey. My brief review of a draft copy of the book tells me Las Vegas, New Mexico, 1835-1935 lives up to expectations.
The first printing will be for 2,500 copies at the cost of about $20,000. The books is a “coffee table” style book in terms of size, and contains many photos and a whole lot of history. If you would like to be part of this exciting effort, you may become a member of the Friends of the Museum at the Sponsor level for $100, and receive a copy of the book once it is published.
From the Friends newsletter, winter issue…
In the fall of 2009 the Friends of the Museum Board accepted the challenge of making public the large collection of photograph images archived in the city museum. It was agreed that a book was the appropriate format and a book subcommittee was established with Margaret Vazquez Geffroy, Kenneth Mares, Ginny Gable, Jay Harris, Linda Gegick, Nancy Colalillo, Kayt Peck and Elmo Baca as early book author.
The charge sent to the subcommittee the following December stated: The Subcommittee on the Las Vegas Photohistory Book Project shall formulate policy and procedures for the publication of a new photohistory book of Las Vegas, NM, a book that shall include a significant number of photographic images in the City of Las Vegas Museum collection and other photographic images, if needed.
Fourteen book themes were identified by the subcommittee and offered to selected local experts requesting historical essays on the given theme. In addition, the Friends sent out a request to the public for submissions of personal historical writings, photographs, Spanish language documents, and literary memorabilia related to the themes established. Later, a request for proposals for a book designer was publicized, and Kenesson Design, Inc. of Albuquerque was selected.
Because this process evolved over several years, subcommittee members changed and the author changed. New life was breathed into the project when Edwina P. Romero was contracted to serve as book editor/ author. Subsequently, the book was reevaluated, and changes in its structure, content, and focus were adopted.
The book, in its final round of copy editing, includes about 200 images with extended historical captions, connective narrative text, essays, sidebars, and a timeline of major events. Following are some excerpts.
– March 28, 1835—Juan de Dios Maese, Manuel Archuleta, Manuel Durán, and José Antonio Casados, of San Miguel del Bado, on behalf of themselves and 25 additional men, petition the town council for the land known as Las Vegas Grandes en el Río de las Gallinas [The Large Meadows at the Gallinas River]. – 1840 Plaza de Arriba, later known as Upper Town and San Antonio, becomes the second community on the land grant settlement.
– 1846 August 9—Captain Cooke leading an advance party of the Army of the West reaches the Nuestra Señora settlement. Cooke meets with Alcalde Juan de Dios Maese.
– 1852 January 9—San Miguel County is established by act of New Mexico Territorial legislature.
– 1860 New Mexico Territorial Legislature passes a bill making public education compulsory. Teachers receive fifty cents per pupil per month.
– 1879 September—Monte Verde, (alias Monte Holman, alias Dame Belle Siddons, a Confederate spy) arrives and sets up as a dealer of faro and monte (card games) at the Toe Jam Saloon on Center Street (later Lincoln Avenue). She departs before year end.
– 1880 In one decade (1870–80), population increases from 1,730 to 4,697. The Agua Pura Company is formed and provides water for homes and fire hydrants.
– 1881 March—Shakespeare Society is established. – 1882 July—east and west sides of the Gallinas River incorporate as one municipality. – 1888 Christian Brothers’ De La Salle Institute, a private Catholic school for boys, opens.
– 1895 November 25—East of Shoemaker, NM, AT&SF Train # 4 collides with #35. Three railway workers killed. “In those days we never got any train running orders. We ran exclusively by smoke and headlight,” said one engineer.
– 1897 United States Supreme Court rules that Las Vegas common lands of the Las Vegas Land Grant belong to the community known as the Town of Las Vegas, which as yet does not exist.
– 1904 First automobiles appear …
– 1913 Obaid Maloof builds the Mutual (later Campus, later Kiva) Theater for movies.
– 1916 New Las Vegans elected: Ezekiel C. de Baca elected governor and A. A. Jones, U. S. Senator.
– 1920 Penney Dry Goods and Ilfeld Hardware stores move to the City of Las Vegas (east of Gallinas River).
– 1922 Kiwanis Club organizes local chapter. – 1923 New Mexico Normal University crisis, president dismissed.
– 1924–25—Las Vegas Maroon baseball team wins state championship.
– 1928 Charles Lindbergh visits Las Vegas.
– 1932 the City rejects the Town’s consolidation proposal.
– 1935 March—Cornerstone for new building at New Mexico Normal University is laid, made possible by the Federal Works Progress Administration. Designed by John Gaw Meem, Rodgers Hall would house the University library.
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According to Sharon Stewart’s website bio, photography is in her genes. Her Great Great Aunt Sadie, Quaker, was a commercial photographer in 1880s Iowa, having a studio with another Quaker woman. Stewart says the impetus of her photographic work is service and beauty. Her Agua y Fe: Water and Faith series is on exhibit through Labor Day at the Plaza Hotel’s Ballroom Corridor Gallery in sponsorship with the Las Vegas Arts Council.
ORP:What brought you from urban living to a more rural lifestyle? Sharon:My birthplace on the frontera of southernmost Texas with Mexico was imbued with agrarian expanses and fecundity, a languid pace of living, and small town familiarities. I studied finance and economics at the University of Texas, Austin and moved to Houston to begin my photographic career. This served well, though I longed to dwell back with the cycles of nature whose elemental forces resonated with me rather than the densities of the city. Looking for a home in the Mora Valley was a five year endeavor, and yes, finally finding a place in Chacón, the shift from living with three million to three hundred (people) was swift and welcome.
ORP: Your website bio refers to your photographic purpose. Talk about that and how it has shaped your work.
Sharon: Having completed a photo narrative on grassroots environmental activism in Texas, which gave voice to the concerns of salt of the earth folks protecting their land, air, water, culture from the ill effects of industry and the government’s hazardous waste practices, I was a bit discouraged by the realities of what we do to one another in the name of profit. When I moved here, I took a long look at why I was photographing, and ultimately, the answer was to serve history, this coming from strong service ethos that runs in the Stewart family line. Certainly the Toxic Tour of Texas was an activist/advocacy piece with the photographs being used in legislative testimony, published in the daily and environmental press, exhibited in libraries, shopping centers, and museums throughout Texas. Turning to a quieter life, photographing the rituals and traditions of Hispano New Mexico and the acequia culture in El Cerrito continued in the vein offering a view into lives aligned with the land and community. I had begun the El Agua es la Vida project three years before moving to Northern New Mexico, and it expanded with the exploration of the village life over the course of two decades, something I term Slow Photography, a commitment to the narrative through time. These photographs are part of the Water in the West Project and Archive residing at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona. The Mora Valley narrative, Exit West: A Cultural Confluence, began upon my arrival and will continue through my life here. A major focus has been to place these images in archives and special collections at universities in the American West for scholarly research and teaching purposes.
ORP: How has your purpose evolved from when you started? Sharon: Initially I was recording the world as I encountered it. I have come to understand that what we see, observe, perceive is an aperture into the self, as tightly or as widely as we are willing to explore and share. Image creation can be a journey into self hand-in-hand with the human instinct to remember, gather, share, enjoin, act. So as I have come to see it, my “purpose“ has been finessed or perhaps honed over these many years of engaged seeing.
ORP: How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to actually doing it for a living?
Sharon:As for many in rural Northern New Mexico, making a living is a mosaic endeavor. I often say I make a life photographing.
ORP: When do you know you’ve captured the subjects of your photographs in just the way you want? Sharon: Photographing is intuitive for me. Certainly intentionality and placing oneself in the image field is vital. Much of the joy in photographing is opening oneself to the unknown, being free in the not knowing and releasing the imposition of will or expectation on a situation. However, the narrative structure necessitates an understanding of relationships, economic and societal influences, cultural, religious and familial overlays, so I have drawn on my university training to scope an encompassing view of a chosen subject. There is also a calming resonance I feel when all the elements align for a signal image.
ORP: The Stewart photographs I’ve seen are primarily in black and white. Is that your preferred mode of expression and if so, why? Sharon: My initial work was in color transparency, though with too much noxious chemical exposure in the Cibachrome color printing process, I moved to black and white. However, each subject has an appropriate expression through process, which determines my choice of using color or black and white, film or pixel.
ORP: Talk about the photographers who influenced you and how their work contributed to your photographic and career choices.
Sharon: Early on I studied the Dadaists and Surrealists and their alignment with chance, unexpected juxtaposition, and dream exploration—Man Ray, Merét Oppenheim, Hannah Höch, Marcel Duchamp, and by extension, Alexander Calder and his playful lyricism. In the black and white canon, Minor White for metaphor, spirituality and beauty, Edward Steichen for experimentation, Paul Strand for clear-eyed, compassionate observance and commitment to a finely crafted negative and print, Laura Gilpin for evocative landscapes, Dorothea Lange for social and economic justice. Their creative expression is synchronistic with ways I perceive the world, so I look to them as both partners and guides.
ORP: Realizing that each image has its own unique message, what do you want your photographs to convey? Sharon:My intention is to open in viewers understanding and discovery by stimulating their imaginations and memories.
ORP: If you could use only one word to describe your photography, what would it be?
Sharon:Whenever I have been asked about a favorite anything, I respond that I have many favorites for as many different reasons. Same applies to my photographic expression. If you look at the bodies of work in the arc of my creative life, you will see work originating in the personal, the universal, the communal.
ORP: What motivates you to continue taking pictures? Sharon:I cannot not take photographs, though I become more selective about when and where and what I photograph. Photography has taught me to see, not just look, see, and those observations aren’t always tangibly recorded.
ORP: Where have you exhibited and do you have current shows up locally?
Sharon: The cultural landscape images of Northern New Mexico, many of which are currently on view in the Agua y Fe: Water and Faith exhibition at the Plaza Hotel’s Ballroom Corridor Gallery in sponsorship with the Las Vegas Arts Council, have been exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Art, NM History Museum, Office of the State Historian, Center for Creative Photography, Museum of Fine Arts-Houston, NM Capitol Arts Collection, Visual Studies Workshop, Houston Center for Photography, FotoFest International Biennial. Other work has been exhibited in Amsterdam, Belgium, Germany, South Africa, Cuba, Canada, New York City, Los Angeles, Boston, Washington, D.C.