It’s all in the eyes. That is the secret. They look out as if seeing someone they have long known and trusted. They seem to be looking directly at you, but they are looking at the camera, the photographer. It—he—is their friend. They aren’t posing. They are relaxed. And because they see you so clearly, you see them clearly. It is magic.
I know exactly how it feels to be photographed by Kevin Bubriski, whose new book of photographs of Hispanic New Mexicans is being published this month by the Museum of New Mexico Press. Thirty-five years ago I was one of his subjects. I was also one of his colleagues, in a sense his employer.
He took pictures for my small magazine, Letter from Santa Fe. He recalled in a recent email how we traveled together around the state on the campaign bus of Toney Anaya during Anaya’s successful campaign for governor. His was no ordinary campaign—Anaya was, so far as I know, the only New Mexican ever to win a statewide grassroots campaign against the political establishment, a kind of precursor perhaps of the presidential campaigns this year of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Anaya liked the issue so much he asked to autograph a copy of the magazine.
Bubriski has gone on to have an extraordinary career. He has traveled the world, photographed it magnificently and published a number of books. He has particularly focused on Nepal, beginning with his Peace Corps service there in 1975 and continuing for the next 40 years. His pictures hang in the collections of numerous museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. He is on the faculty of Green Mountain College in Vermont, where he lives.
For several years in the early 1980s he lived, worked and studied in New Mexico. His photographs from that period were never published, but his latest book rectifies that oversight. “Three decades of waiting have shifted their impact and amplified their power,” photography critic Blake Andrews noted in an online review.
“Look into My Eyes: Nuevomexicanos por Vida” (140 pages hardbound, $39.95) includes 82 duotones and an introduction by Miguel Gandert. A selection of photos from the book is on view at the Verve Gallery of Photography at 219 East Marcy St. in Santa Fe.
People are at the center of the photographs, but unlike the subjects of many other famed photographers, they are not isolated. Their context, the scene, the background, incidental objects and other people give the focal subjects a context and a depth they would otherwise lack.
The scenes include San Gabriel Park in Albuquerque, the New Mexico State Fair, the Santa Fe Rodeo, a lowrider car show, Easter Weekend and the Chimayó Fiesta. Other photos depict people in Santa Fe, Española, Santa Cruz, El Rito and Turchas. Their emotions—love, flirtation, bravado, modesty, young pride and old pain—are so exposed their faces are almost translucent.
Bubriski worked closely with and was strongly influenced by Bernard Plossu, another photographer I collaborated with in the 1980s in Santa Fe who has gone on to a grand international career as a distinguished art and documentary photographer.
There is a distinct personal style in Bubriski’s 35mm black-and-white photos documenting Hispanic life in New Mexico. “Interesting subject matter was all around me in New Mexico,” Bubriski writes, a sentiment I’ve always shared. In the foreword Gandert notes, “Kevin was respectful of Hispano New Mexico. His feelings for this place are revealed in the way his subjects have accepted him and the intimate way he has entered their world.”
Bubriski concludes his introduction to the photos, “These images from New Mexico in the early ’80s return me to the excitement and sense of discovery I felt as a young photographer experiencing this enchanted land for the very first time.” Any reader of “Look into My Eyes” or viewer of Bubriski’s website or visitor to the Verve Gallery of Photography (large formats for sale unframed at $1,500) can’t help but share this sense of discovery.