“In this staggering spaciousness of earth and sky, light is the vital force… the master painter.”
Winfield Townley Scott
With this timely quote the stage is set for “Earth River Sky,” a new book by Rob Atkins, a photographer who has been to northern New Mexico many times in search of its soul, “to make a book of what he found.”
What he found, however, was something far more rewarding. “Now, I realized that it was northern New Mexico that had found me,” he wrote in the Introduction.
Many of you have read about and viewed the beauty of New Mexico and of how artists have been coming to this part of the U.S. for many years in an attempt to capture the magic of its landscape, the grandeur of its sky, and the light.
“The world stretches wider here in New Mexico than the mind can encompass, so that to understand what it has to say the heart must be enlarged.” Elizabeth McCausland
So it is that when I first moved to New Mexico in 2002, I underestimated the power of the land to command and to connect. It took more than five years for me to even begin to appreciate what it had to offer. Thanks to many daytrips with my studio partner, the photographer Pat Berrett, I slowly began to understand; to understand why so many artists had come here over the years to capture the language of the land, the beat of its heart.
Atkins relates that Georgia O’Keeffe once described this location as “more sky than earth.” I have been to many locations where one can stand and not see any signs of civilization. No power lines. No buildings. No roads. Absolutely nothing.
The images in “Earth River Sky” are clean. There have been no magical filters added. None are needed. What you see is what you get. Upon viewing the image of the Rio Grande on White Rock Canyon below the Pajarito Plateau, one can almost perceive the vastness of the geography, and why it has captivated photographers and painters alike.
There are pictures of canyons, mesas, churches, horses, doors, flowers, cacti, petroglyphs, and much more. Atkins illustrates the area with reverence and humility, with pertinent quotes placed strategically throughout.
A simple image of a door further shows how the marriage of color and texture can elicit emotion in the viewer. A road across the Piedra Lumbre Basin (pictured, shows the effect of a land without beginning or end.
In the final lines of the Introduction Atkins writes, “Whenever I am in northern New Mexico, I like to walk through the narrow interstices that are neither day nor night, out alone into the landscape. With only the sound of the wind writing its poem across the desert and the rising tide of darkness about me.”
He then recalls the words of Walt Whitman: “These are the days that must happen to you.” Reflecting on those powerful words, Atkins realizes that “These are the days that must happen to me, and this is the place where they must happen.”
I have already found a place for this book on one of my bookshelves. Once you pick up a copy of “Earth River Sky,” you will undoubtedly do the same.