The Rio Chama From the Overlook, Late Afternoon Light, Near Abiquiu, New Mexico, 1997
Photographer Craig Varjabedian first saw the light in New Mexico as a young man, when he spent a night in the backseat of his car on the Santa Fe Plaza and awoke at dawn to a life-changing sunrise. The dramatic light results in part from the lack of particulate matter in the air. This creates extreme visibility—up to 100 miles, as opposed to around 10 on the coasts—and causes clouds to form only at very high altitudes, sharpening shadows and magnifying the appearance of objects like distant mountains.
A Low-Rider Cadillac Named Chimayo, Chimayo, New Mexico, 1997
In honor of the statehood centennial, Varjabedian has compiled more than 100 new and selected images taken throughout New Mexico, in the book Landscape Dreams: A New Mexico Portrait, with text by Marin Sardy and a foreword by Outside contributing editor Hampton Sides.
Old Corral and Approaching Storm, Antelope Flats, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico, 2005
For most of its colonial history, New Mexico was what Hampton Sides has described as an unofficial end of the road, both physically and metaphorically. It was “where Spain stopped and existential wilderness began.”
Welcome to New Mexico, Autumn, Chama, New Mexico, 2010
The term that became New Mexico’s nickname was first coined in 1925, by Western-genre writer Zane Grey. “What must dwell in the minds of a race living in this land of enchantment?” he wrote.
Cottonwood Trees No. 5, Autumn, Near La Cienega, New Mexico, 1996
Most early settlements in New Mexico clung to the bosques of the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Translating simply as “forest,” in New Mexico the word bosque refers specifically to river-bottom woodlands. The term carries implications of earthly abundance and pastoral beauty.
White Sands Study No. 1, White Sands National Monument, Alamogordo, New Mexico, 2000
New Mexico is home to one national park, 10 national monuments, two national laboratories, and one atomic test site. White Sand Dunes National Monument, embedded within White Sands Missile Range, comprises the largest surface deposit of gypsum in the world, some 275 square miles of dunes that grow up to 50 feet high.
Children Dancers, Holy Innocents Day, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico, 1997
The Big Mill of Sapello, El Rancho de las Golondrinas, New Mexico, 2003
Comanche Tipis From the Film Commanche Moon, Near Abiquiu, New Mexico, 2006
Varjabedian relies almost exclusively on vintage photographic equipment to produce distinct effects from the New Mexico light. He uses a large-format camera and an array of handmade lenses, some of which are 80 years old.
Archie West and His Pal Buddy, San Marcos, New Mexico, 2001
Landscape Dreams: A New Mexico Portrait (University of New Mexico Press, $50) is available through UNM Press, local bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon. More of Varjabedian’s images are on view at www.craigvarjabedian.com.