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Dick Spas, The Southwest: Its Land and Its People
Dick Spas, The Southwest: Its Land and Its People

Fri, Jul 14


Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse

Dick Spas, The Southwest: Its Land and Its People

Photographer's Reception and Book Signing

Date, Time & Location

Jul 14, 2023, 4:00 PM MDT

Collected Works Bookstore & Coffeehouse, 202 Galisteo St, Santa Fe, NM 87501, USA

About the Event

I was born in the village of Johnson City in western New York state in the 1930s. Early on as a boy, I lived with my grandparents in Johnson City, New York. My grandfather always had his box camera with him, which I still have today. When I was 7, I went to live with my mother and step-father 100 miles west in the finger lakes region of New York state.  I remember a time when we were out for a drive near Keuka Lake, we came upon a fund raising Bingo game, where  I won myself a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye Camera. Now with my own camera, I could begin my explorations of photography.

Leaving home at 16, I joined the navy and in Europe I bought an Agfa camera which I used to take a lot of pictures. After four years in the navy, my aunt and cousin Phil encouraged me to enroll at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. That summer we packed Phils’ ’48 Ford and drove across country to New Mexico where I enrolled at the University of New Mexico under the GI Bill. The first year Phil and I rented a small house just 3 blocks west of the university. Walking home from class I could see Mt. Taylor 70 miles to the west. To this day I have never gotten over the quality and clarity of the light in New Mexico. Also walking home from the university one day I happened to meet Irving (Fritz) Alonso from Laguna Pueblo who was hanging out with Tim Weeks and other bohemian type people, latter also known as beatniks. Tim, Fritz and other people who hung out at 214 Pine Street ended up having a profound influence on my life.

In my second year at the university I found that the GI Bill was never quite enough so I secured a part time job working several evenings a week at The Last Stop Bar and Liquor store on north Second Street. In those days it was literally the last stop, but it was where I met Dude Kirk who had retired from a trading post on the Navajo reservation. Dude introduced me to the beauty of Navajo weaving, and it was where I bought my first Navajo rug, a rug from the Wide Ruin area of the Navajo reservation. I gave it to Tim and Ramona Weeks as a wedding present. Dude Kirk had never fully retired was still making trips to the Navajo reservation and on Saturdays I used to help him ship Navajo saddle blankets all over the world.

At the end of my second year at the university I needed a summer job. Fritz Alonzo was selling World Book Encyclopedia’s and said, ”Come on. Let’s sell World Book Encyclopedia’s together.” So off we went to the Navajo reservation where we would find a government boarding school at the end of a 30-or-40-mile-long dirt road. The children were gone, but being government employees, the teacher and other staff members had to be there. They were usually excited to see us. We would call everyone together, make our presentation and usually sell 5, 6, or 7 sets of encyclopedias. We would then inquire where the nearest Navajo social dance was going to be held that night and head there. Social dances were where young people could get together under the watchful eyes of their parents. It was an interesting summer and I learned my way around the Navajo reservation and met many wonderful people.

In the summer of 1966, I took a magazine article writing class taught by Tony Hillerman at the university, and, with writing articles in mind, I walked into a pawn shop near Sandia base and bought a used Rolleicord 2¼ camera. After adventures into marriage, the mysteries of Mexico, drugs and alcohol, divorce, and finally therapy, I was ready for a new beginning.

In January 1967 I went back to the university full time. I enrolled in the art department taking two-dimensional design, art history, beginning drawing and a beginning photography class taught by Cavaliere Ketchum. He was a great instructor and I was hooked. Van Dern Coke had just started the photography department the previous semester and was putting together an excellent program which still continues today.

Later that year, I mentioned to Van Dern Coke that I was going out to Big Sur and Carmel over the holiday break. “Oh,” he said, “Stop and see Ansel Adams and take your portfolio.” I went to California and called Ansel. We spent the afternoon together and thus my education into the excellence of print making began. Later, when Ansel visited New Mexico we would get together for evenings at Laura Gilpin’s house in Santa Fe. Under such instructors as Cavalier Ketchum, Wayne Lazoric, Richard Rudasill, the photo historian Beaumont Newhall, and evenings with Ansel and Laura, I became a student of photography and continue to be today.

In January of 1968, while keeping my contacts with the photography department at the university through independent study, I moved to Taos to do freelance photography. There is much more about this in my forthcoming book Recuerdos Two. By the end of 1968 I was living on Le Doux Street in one of the apartments at the Harwood Foundation. It was an upstairs apartment in the back. I had my darkroom in the kitchen, a large comfortable living room, a bedroom and a bathroom. The rent was inexpensive and included utilities. I was there for 7 years. Living at the Harwood was interesting. Ron Barsono, a painter, as well as Cam Martin and several other people were living in the other apartments.

Living at the Harwood enabled me to acquire the best photography equipment money could buy. I felt that if had the best equipment, there were no excuses for not producing a good photograph. By this time, I had a subscription to Photo Technique International, the German magazine produced by Linhof, that featured suburb photographic reproductions. It was and is a standard of excellence that I aspire to.

Taos was a small town, I could walk to the post office, connect easily with other people, I was doing my own photography as well as work for other people. My work was admitted to Stables Gallery where I sat in art committee meetings with other Taos artists. Life was good. Then the University of New Mexico which owned the Harwood decided to close it for complete renovation. I had to move. I found a place in Ranchos de Taos. The rent was more, I was paying utilities, not getting as much work. I eventually moved my photography studio and darkroom to Albuquerque, keeping my post office box in Taos, coming back to Taos on weekends and sleeping on Ron Barsono’s living room floor.

In Albuquerque I started doing advertising and design work influenced by clean European design work. I started designing advertising for several prominent Santa Fe native American Art galleries as well as advertising for Taos art galleries. After two years I moved my darkroom and studio back to Taos and opened my own gallery called Southwestern Arts on Bent Street where I sold both old and new Navajo weavings and my own photographs. I traveled the Navajo reservation where I bought new rugs directly from the weavers. After 15 years and the advent of cheap Mexican copies of Navajo rugs, I closed the gallery and moved everything back to my house just north of Taos in Las Colonias where I continue to live and work today.

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