by Norman Mauskopf
Twin Palms, 2011
Review by Ellen Rennard
When I was mid-way through my photographic project situated at a racetrack, The Downs at Albuquerque, friends were quick to direct me to Norman Mauskopf’s Dark Horses, a book that covers a tremendous sweep of racing’s territory, from large tracks to small, yet holds together nonetheless. Mauskopf sees quickly and intelligently; he is particularly good at conveying implied narrative by finding that perfect moment in the action. Even in his portraits, one senses motion. All of that is equally true in Mauskopf’s new book of black and white photographs, Descendants, also published by Twin Palms. Here Mauskopf focuses on the culture of northern New Mexico and similarly communicates, even in the landscapes, a sense of movement through time and space. A white horse trots by, heading out of the frame, past a ruined house or barn. Lightning flashes over the mountains as torches from a celebration illuminate the foreground. Rain falls in the distance; the matachines dance; a piece of paper stapled to a post announces, “HOMICIDE Please help!” A parade marches by a Blake’s Lotaburger, the priest in his robe trailed by a man who appears to be a tourist with a camera.
It is not easy to summarize an entire culture in one succinct body of work, yet here in these photographs and in the accompanying poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca, “Singing at the Gates,” we really do get a very complete sense of what this world feels like. These photographs are not so much intellectually informative as they are visually precise and emotionally true – yet never in the least bit sentimental. (There were instances in which I would have liked a caption, the name of a town or person or event, but perhaps only to jog my own memory, since much of the terrain of this book is known to me both personally and as a photographer.) A sheepherder twirling his lariat, young women in shiny platform boots, a remote-controlled lowrider rearing up in the air on its back tires, wooden crosses amid a field of cholla, two boys on horses with rough, winter coats – Mauskopf shows us the real Land of Enchantment.
I admit to an abiding love for northern New Mexico – it is still home although I do not live there now – so I cannot be entirely objective about this book (not that such a thing is possible). However, what I particularly like about Mauskopf’s work is that he sees in a new way, one I hadn’t considered before. It doesn’t matter to me that other people have photographed lowriders; Mauskopf’s approach is original. Part of that comes from his ability to enter places that most people cannot, more remarkable since he is an Anglo photographing the people who are, as Baca writes, “Mayans, Incans, Aztecas, Mexicans, Chicanos, / Cholos y Homies.” The other part comes from Mauskopf’s deft skill and good eye; the cover image of a young woman seen through a car window, her face echoing that of the Virgin of Guadalupe painted on the car door, is especially striking.