A Portrait of Northern New Mexico
Text by Alex Harris
Published by UNM Press and The Center for Documentary Studies, 1992
Well known for his black-and-white portraits of New Mexico’s ancianos, for more than a decade, Alex Harris also made color photographs that document northern New Mexico in an altogether different fashion. This surprising book introduces Harris’s color work, which portrays the people of the mountain villages by showing us their surroundings. The photographer in this book reveal something no portrait of an individual can show. They document the often astonishingly beautiful presence of a people over time in their particular place in the world.
Harris photographed only in black and white during his first seven years in New Mexico. In the essay that introduces this book he evokes the vexing problems of trying to live in a place and photograph it, and he describes the difficult transition to color. Harris began his color work in the late 1970’s photographing his n eighbors’ yards, trucks, porches, and h ouses. Soon he began to photograph the interiors of such houses. The phrase that is the title of this book, Red White Blue and God Bless You, was inscribed above a doorway in a house whose magnificent decor epitomized the devotion to home and sheer pleasure in using beautiful colors that makes the rooms and buildings depicted here so powerful.
Just as the old villagers decorate their houses with a devotion that is often religious, the younger people in New Mexico lavish attention on their cars. Having photographed the private spaces of the ancianos’ houses, Harris went on to document the interiors of the low rider cars that are the living rooms of the younger generation. A familiar sight in m any parts of the West, these meticulously maintained and ornamented vehicles are seen here from the inside looking out, as the drivers of the cars might see their own villages and surrounding landscape. We see the village of Chamisal through the windshield of a 1957 Chevrolet Impala convertible, the Saturday night lights of Espanola through the red-flocked and painted interior of a 1966 Chevrolet Caprice.