Culture » Visual Arts

'Beguiling matrix'

Barbara Sparks fixes her camera on our neighbor to the south



Whenever she drives southwest on U.S. Highway 160 toward New Mexico and crosses over La Veta Pass, fine art photographer Barbara Sparks is struck by the quality of light that illuminates the San Luis Valley.

"Light is very subjective, but I would say the light I love begins around Fort Garland, Colorado, and extends south along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to Santa Fe and beyond," she says. "Taos is just sort of the epicenter, if you will."

Sparks says she hasn't found comparable light anywhere in the world, and she's seen a lot of it; her previous book, Far Flung Places: The Photography of Barbara Sparks, featured shots of Nepal, Turkey, Italy and Guatemala. So she's turned her camera to northern New Mexico for her newest book, Taos: Land, People, Spirit.

The Broadmoor Galleries has been showing Sparks' photographs since the 1990s and will host a book signing for the artist this weekend. There will be a collection of her gelatin silver prints on display, and a continuously running video will present pictures from Taos.

"What inspires me is what has inspired artists for centuries," says Sparks, a Colorado Springs resident who has a second home in Taos. The area's arid climate, unique land forms and tri-cultural community (Native American, Hispanic and Anglo) make for "a photographer's paradise," she explains, a magical place she's been recording visually for 30 years.

For the book, she's chosen 80 of her most impactful black-and-white images, a mixture of new and old photos of Taos artists (some more well-known than others), adobe architecture, landscapes and cultural scenes. In an introductory essay, Sparks writes, "[the] combination of steep forested slopes, mountains, canyons, sagebrush plains and alpine tundra form a complex and beguiling matrix from which each succeeding culture has drawn life and inspiration." Her duotone landscapes depict the region's varied terrain and different climates, from flowering trees juxtaposed against snow-capped mountains in the spring, to views of Taos Mountain and the Rio Grande River and Gorge.

Publication of this fifth book to feature Sparks' pictures coincides with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Taos Society of Artists, a group of painters attracted to the high desert region for its wide open spaces, mountains and Native American influences. Nearly a third of the book is devoted to images of Taos artists, one being the well-known abstract expressionist painter Agnes Martin.

Sparks recalls meeting her for lunch 19 years ago. The artist initially told Sparks "no photographs," but changed her mind after they spoke and shared their mutual appreciation of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Martin invited Sparks to her studio to take some pictures, and one of these portraits was later used for the opening of the Agnes Martin Gallery at the Harwood Museum in Taos. It remains in the museum's permanent collection.

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