New Mexico, like other areas in a swath across the American Southwest, has been a home ground and battleground for three different populations--more if one considers that one of the groups, the Native Americans, were themselves split by language and lifestyle, and all were utterly alien to the Spanish conquistadores and later the white settlers to the region. As author Art Gómez (Quest for the Golden Circle) opines,”There is no easy way to gauge the extent to which aridity, geographic isolation, resource exploitation, linguistic separation, and cultural interdependency still govern the lives of New Mexicans today.”
Wedding Gómez’s well-researched and well-delivered text with splendid images by the noted international photographer Lucian Niemeyer (Wetlands,
Darfur), New Mexico: Images of a Land and Its People, a coffee table-style offering, is like a portable museum of the state. Telling the story in rich detail, Gómez reminds the reader of the early domination of the Spaniards, who imposed feudal taxation on the indigenous people and forced them to work in the silver mines, a labor that mirrors or exceeds the Southern plantation system for its cruelty. But the territory’s Pueblo Indians had already suffered at the hands of invaders like the Apaches, Utes, and Navajos, who challenged the relatively peaceable local tribes for food and other resources. The same Pueblo people became the target for Spanish Franciscan missionaries whose objective was “conversion to the Catholic faith, and acceptance into Hispano society.” Though Hispano influence was pronounced and stamped the region permanently, New Mexico was also shaken by opposing factions in the Civil War era, and finally inundated with the farming and commercial interests of mainstream Americans bent on a different sort of conquest that ultimately led to statehood, inclusion, and the collective will to combat modern threats from within and without.
Niemeyer’s photographs include such focused details as a clump of claret cup cactus at White Sands Monument, a modern painted hide depicting historic scenes from early Native life, and a statue in a nook in the chapel of the well-known Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery. The state’s storied scenery is captured in images of the famed Ship Rock, a convocation of snow geese on a lake in the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, and the distinctively Southwestern adobe Chapel of St. Jerome in Taos Pueblo. The divergent cultures and peoples of New Mexico are vibrantly celebrated with photos of a Spanish descendant playing guitar, a San Juan Pueblo drummer in beautifully woven fabrics and hand-crafted jewelry, and a flamenco dancer at Santa Fe’s Spanish Market.
A stunning presentation of food for the mind and the eye, New Mexico: Images of a Land and Its People is a must-have volume for the state’s residents, and for those outside the region seeking to better understand its unique and complex heritage.