A couple of years ago, I was fortunate to attend a tour through the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum with a geologist who took us to many of the locations that she painted in Abiquiu, NM. On the bus ride towards her holy land, the geologist mentioned that Ansel Adams had taken his most famous photograph, Moonrise over Hernandez, off to the right. I craned my head trying to imprint the location on my psyche and vowed to return.
This part of New Mexico is my favorite place in the entire world. Something about it does it for me, and I have done some transformative bodies (literally) of my own photography work here. I return here now a couple of times a year to teach and lead private artistic adventures into the hidden magic of this wildly beautiful place.
And I also have a big thing for cemeteries. I have done a series of other posts about these graveyards for recovering perfectionists, and the state is filled with hidden gems.
Something that you need to understand about traipsing around New Mexico is that the locals can be fierce and private. It is not a place to go wandering into someones else’s domain. I pray a lot when I am scouting around the more secret places. And when we drove past the location of Ansels’ shot I could see it is now buried in private properties.
The day I went to photograph the site I was nervous because it was not clear how to get in. I drove by multiple times as the 25 miles per hour flashing lights for the schoolyard allowed multiple u-turns. Each time I looked, I could tell I would probably have to trespass to get in. I knew there must be a public road, but I decided to head through some driveways and pray for peace and grace.
My light trespassing yielded the results I desired without rabid dogs or any humans interfering. I was ready to be super humble and hoped there was an easier way out. There is a beautiful old abandoned gas station on the main highway, and I parked there. After I reached the church I realized there was a long county road that you could access it from the back, but I could tell it would be a long stroll in my cowboy boots, so I came back out the way I went in.
As I said earlier, the location looks nothing like it did in 1941 when he took the shot, and in this vintage video with Ansel, it does not look like that either. The video is an interesting view of a creative genius and his obsessive brilliance. You will see if you watch it that he did quite a bit of post-production magic in the darkroom to get the final print. The image that launched a million postcards.
The Hernandez cemetery was a good one, and I got some interesting shots of decaying monuments. I love the gaudy glory of Catholic cemeteries, and I was not disappointed. I have been shooting series of New Mexico cemeteries for years, and this one was another hidden treasure. I also went across the street and revisited the San Jose de Chama Catholic Church cemetery that I shot a couple of years ago. Enjoy, and take the country road on the back end if you visit.
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