This is a departure from my normal black and white offerings, but I particularly like this one in color. Roadside memorials abound these days, but I like to believe they are rooted in a much deeper tradition here in New Mexico.
The first Descansos were resting places where those who carried the coffin from the church to the cemetery paused to rest. In the old villages of New Mexico in the high mountains or river valleys the coffin was carried by four to six men. Often the distance was far and they had to stop and rest along the way. The place where they took their rest was known as the descanso.
None of us ultimately chooses the place that we meet our death. Unfortunately many of us these days meet that end along the road somewhere in a violent passing. Maybe far from home, maybe near to the end of a journey. Sometimes along a busy stretch and sometimes in a quiet distant spot.
The German writer Thomas Mann once wrote that “a man’s dying is more his survivor’s affair than his own.” That is certainly manifest in the roadside memorials and Descansos. They are expressions of those remaining behind, their thoughts and love and care for those who have gone on. They are hand-made works of art constructed of all make of objects and materials that memorialize a life as considered and shared by those who erect them. Each one of them tells a unique story in imagery. I believe they can and should be revered as folk art.
I believe my drive to photograph them is to stop and experience and contemplate their story in more than just a fleet passing moment behind the wheel of the car. Here is yet another way that we as humans attempt to convey our stories and I like to spend a little bit of time trying to hear some of them. These are stories, in part, about our mortality and they confront us with the reality of our own certain deaths. It also allows me time to reflect on my own life and the things I have and haven’t done and my hope that I have done honor to those who I love, care for and respect.
Yes, these are very personal expressions put up by people who cared and loved deeply enough to tell the world a story. But they are presented in open public spaces for everyone to see and experience. So I choose to believe that my photographing them is an extension of their stories to yet another level. I take care and respect in their presence and even take the time to clean and tidy them if needed just as I do when visiting the grave sides of loved ones. I look for perspectives that help to build on the story and attempt to choose images that focus on the art of the object more than just the individual. To that end use image processing techniques that help to blur any information that may be specific to the individual and at least maintain some level of privacy.
(Originally published May 26, 2016)