Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Road to Chimayo

This is not a sacred shrine.
The signs say, “Pilgrims turn here.”

There are thousands of pilgrims who walk to the Santuario de Chimayo, every April, for the Magic Dirt. Maybe getting them off the highway helps ensure their safety.

I wonder how many have been killed on their way to being healed?

The detours lead to water/aid stations.
Aid stations for religious pilgrims? I thought the whole point was to suffer.
I checked-out the stock in a cooler under one of the blue safety tents- no beer.
They were suffering.

Most of the detours lead back to the killer highway, but we see one which has redirected a fair amount of pilgrims to a road heading out towards the low pinon covered hills.
Go with the flow, que no?

Ben takes the next exit and finds a side road. It winds us past dilapidated homes and trailers, past the huge scrap metal, chicken-wire and concrete buffalo head sculpture, to an intersection at the road the detoured pilgrims are wandering down. We see a building, and what appears to be a small cemetery, so we hang a right and turn in.
I see a roadside shine- they mark the spot where somebody has died, so I get out of the car and cross the narrow street. Ben stays in the car- he’s closing his 3rd deal of the day on his cell.

I kneel in front of it, framing my first shot.
That I look like a supplicant pilgrim is not lost on me.
I almost make the sign of the cross- probably should have.

I have been on my knees in the ordinary dusty dirt for 30 seconds when I hear a voice.

No answer...

I look behind me and see two guys in a car. Big Guys.
I  get up and point to my ears as I walk towards their car.
Sorry- didn’t hear you. Wassup?

You can’t take pictures here.

Why not? I’m a photographer.
That’s Sacred Stuff.

Sacred stuff?

You’re on the reservation, all the Stuff is Sacred.
You can’t take pictures.

Hey, sorry, I didn’t know. No problem.
I turn to leave.

You have to get rid of the pictures you’ve taken.
I haven’t taken any.

Show us your camera.

I haven’t taken any, you’ll just have to trust me.
A shameless appeal to their religious sense of compassion and tolerance.

If you don’t show us your camera, we’ll call the tribal police.
They’ll confiscate it without even checking.
I look in the car. The driver’s holding a 2-way radio.
So much for compassion and tolerance.

My camera is kinda expensive.
I can’t afford to have it taken away, especially by cops in a nation that is not subject to most of the laws of the in the U.S. of A.

I remember how this would be going down if I’d been shooting film- like back in the day.
They’d be demanding the film roll.
I gotta CF card.

(Silver nitrate coated gelatin on a plastic base is not totally extinct. Lomographers still use it.)
Didn’t you see the NO PHOTOS sign back there?
No, I didn’t.
Didn’t you see the NO PHOTOS sign at the entrance?

I hold the camera so the Big Guy in the passenger seat can see the screen.
Here, look- this is the last picture I took.
See those hands in front on that woman’s face? They’re my daughters hands.
She didn’t want me to take her picture so she put them up so I couldn’t, but I took it anyhow.

Damn. Bad move.

The screen turns off after 6 seconds.
I take back my camera. They don’t stop me.
Well, okay then. . . I’ll get a few shots of the pilgrims and be on my way.
You can’t take pictures here.

Not even of the pilgrims?
You can’t take pictures here.

But they’re not tribal members.
You can’t take pictures here.

I can't take pictures here?
You can’t take pictures here.

Clearly, more is going on here than I know. Go figure.
How does it work?
What’s all the Stuff?

The surrounding space and everything in it is a Sacred Object, or just some stuff? They said all the stuff, but that's a lot of stuff, ya know?
If you take a picture in the Sacred Space of something that is not sacred, like a sinner Pilgrim, and a tree or a car or a shrine that lives in the Sacred Space is in the background, it would louse up the Sacred Space? 

All of it? Some of it? Are cars on the res sacred?
They don’t allow any pics just to be on the safe side?

If it’s all Sacred, does anything happen to those who pass through it?
Are they transmogrified into a sacred object, or left untouched?
I’m now a sacred photographer?
If I am, can I take a self portrait?
Is my camera now sacred, too?

Some folks think photographs steal the souls of those photographed.
Is this part of the no photo deal? A Sacred Camera would steal a soul or a shrine?
What on earth for? What good is it being a Sacred Being if I’m not in control of my own Sacredness?

I’m totally freaking confused. I feel like I'm 8 again.
Man, it’s no wonder Father McDonald asked the Pope to excommunicate me in the 3rd grade.

The voices are talking to me again...

You can take your pictures once they turn off on to 503.
I’m guessing that must be the boundary line of the rez-soul-space.
I don’t ask for confirmation of my theory.

It’s time to go.
I get back in the car and start to tell Ben the story as we head to the highway.

On the way out we see a large sign, with red letters, saying NO PHOTOS.
When we get to the entrance there is another, even bigger sign, saying THE SAME THING.

No wonder they didn’t want to take my word for it I hadn’t shot anything.
Who could not have seen these? Only the blind on their way to the Magic Dirt to be healed.

What happened finally became clear. I’m slow, but I’m not stupid.
These are the words I live by.

The side road, with no signs, dumped us out onto the pilgrim cut-off road, well past the entrance, where there were signs.
It was a miracle we didn't see them.

We see a fair amount of un-photographed sacred roadside shrines on the way out.

There’s a lot of death here, Ben notes. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Buffet

Why are you taking pictures?
I’m a photographer.

Don’t take a picture of me.
No prob. I’m trying to get a shot of the neon sign.

I’m trying to take pictures of all the dive bars, ahh, I mean old school bars in town.

The drunk next to her says you’re not gonna take a picture of me are you?
Not unless you’re sitting on top of the sign.

He lights a smoke.

Two guys walk out of the bar.
Sounds like a the opening line for a bad joke.

What are you doing?
I’m taking pictures.

I’m a photographer.

We’re the headliners, you should take pictures of us!

They light up some butts and start mugging for the camera. I start to shoot.
They laugh and walk back into the bar.

The pictures are out of focus. I don’t care.
I take a fair amount of non-pictures to humor people.

Another guy staggers over.

What are you doing?
I’m taking pictures.

I’m a photographer.

I’M the photographer around here.

I just look at him. He doesn’t have a camera, just a butt hanging on his lower lip.
It’s white and crusty. His lip.

I’m the photographer. I’ve been all over the world taking pictures.

And you are WHO?
I’m Jim.

I mean WHO are you?
Nobody. I’m just taking some pics.

Do you know so and so? He mumbles some name I don’t hear.

Do you know so and so? He slurs out another name.
No. I’ve been out of the loop, sorry.

You’re not a photographer.
Hey, I don’t know, I’m just out here with my camera.

I’m the photographer!
Okay man, it’s cool.

I think he sounds like an old queen but who cares, really? Just a thought.

He is moving closer. I stand still.
Somebody from the bar- I think somebody he knows, maybe somebody who knows him, is moving towards us.

The other guy puts his hands on his shoulders and tells him it’s okay.

I take a pic from the hip. It’s out of focus. Crap.
I guess he’s right. I’m not a photographer.

The other guys pulls him away and gets him walking down the street, away from the bar.
I think they are roomies. They seem to know each other but who cares, really? Just a thought.

He is walking backwards while his friend keeps him from falling over.

He is giving me the double barreled finger.

Man. . .

I turn back to the building to shoot. Two guys are getting out of a pick-up.
They stand on the curb and fire up some butts.

Don’t worry about the drunks.

I’m not worried about the drunks, I’m worried about me.
Actually, I’ve been drunk before, if the truth be know, and I’ve been drunk in this bar.

They look at me.

You know, happy minute, dogs cooked in beer..?
They give me an if you say so smile, and go back to smoking.

I’m close enough to hear most their conversation, something I’m not good at because my hearing aids totally suck. Apparently they’re into explosives- they make bombs. There are pros and cons to the various formulations one can use and, as one might expect, there have been difficulties in finding the raw material since 9/11.

I turn back to the building again. I’m trying to get both the front window and the sign on the roof in the shot.
It’s a wide angle shot. Really wide.

I keep backing up, but there is a pick-up parked exactly where I need to be.
I’d climb into the bed of the truck but something tells me it’s not a good idea, at least today.
I wish I had a 10mm.

The woman I talked to earlier comes out for another smoke.
When she starts to head back in she turns and says, don’t take my picture.

I won’t. I already said I wouldn’t.
I don’t think she remembers.

Out of the corner of my eye The Real Photographer is coming in from the right.
He’s calmed down a bit.
He walks past, says fuck you once or twice, and heads to the couch, which is a pick-up truck seat in the parking lot, to fire up a butt.

Now there are about 10 people outside leaning against the front of the building.
Happy minute is over. It’s time to light up.

They are looking at me, through the cloud of smoke, like if I take their picture they’ll try to hurt as best they can. They are totally trashed, though. Maybe I’m misreading their expressions.

Somebody on the sidewalk starts to tell me about the historic neon sign salvation project the neighborhood association is trying to get the city to fund. Another tells me the Buffet serves more Coors than any other bar in the state. Yet another tells me if I come in on my birthday, I can order anything I want and they’ll give it to me for free.

The sun is getting low fast. The last of the winter light falls off the sign at 5:56 pm. I think using a flash will only aggravate the locals. Time to go. At least nobody puked on me.

Maybe I’ll come back when the place opens, at 6 am, and see how it looks back-lit.

Next time I shoot the Buffet, I’m gonna need a drink.