In Havana I joined a group of carpenters, plumbers and electricians for a game of…
It has been one of those years in which, if I didn’t have any photographs, I might not remember what all happened.
It is never easy to choose the best pictures of any year but choosing the best pictures of 2019 was particularly challenging. It was a wild, roller-coaster of a ride where I took on far too much, worked far too hard, traveled more that I had planned and accomplished more that I could have imagined. I enjoyed every minute of it and yet I completely burned out. And burned out to the point where by October I was doing some major reassessing about what direction I want my life to take over the next five to ten years.
Sometime in the summer, a friend of mine said: “Imagine. You turn 50 years old next year. You probably have only twenty to twenty-five summers left. Imagine that!”
Huh. Imagine that. What a jerk.
I’ve never been someone that worried much about getting older nor about how long or how short my life might be. I’m not particularly worried about death. But that comment hit me like a ton of bricks. Again, I’m not worried about death or how many years I have left but I am concerned about how I spent those last twenty or twenty-five (and here is hoping there are actually fifty more for the love of God! :-) and how I will look back on my life in my waning days…be they ten, twenty-five or fifty years from now. Mid-life crisis much? Sheesh.
WAY back in mid-September 2003 I was sitting on the rocky shore of the Arctic Ocean near the Norwegian-Russian border watching a fishing vessel battle an icy rolling surf. I had just completed a 5-month, 1500-mile backpacking trip through Finland. I very clearly remember thinking…now I know how I want to live my life. I started travelling when I was 16 years old but something about it never felt right. It was all aimless, self-centered, purpose-less wandering and I wanted something more. There, at the end of my Finland trek I realized that I had something to give back, something to create and a way in which I wanted to live. I also had a baby girl on the way and as we all know, having kids changes everything. Everything. My life once my daughter was born did not take the route I thought it was going to take the day before she was born.
So now, 16 years later with my children rapidly growing up, stretching their wings and learning to fly I’m revisiting that moment there along the coast of the northern ocean and looking at how I get what I want out of the next few years and how I can do it in a way that satisfies my constant need to “give back”. I’m looking at old ideas with fresh eyes. And if you’re still sticking with this 10-year old blog that hasn’t seen much action the past few years, I offer you to stick around and come along for the ride starting in 2020.
And now the recap of the best pictures of 2019 ….oh and by the way…if these don’t really grab you and you’d just rather see all my photography then you’ll want to go here.
Best Picture of January 2019
Open for Business. Moreno Valley, New Mexico in 50mph winds in driving snow. A friend and I teach monthly photography workshops in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado. One workshop focused in on owls and raptors east of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the Cimarron watershed of northeastern New Mexico. The owls were fabulous. The Bald eagles amazing . But the storm that bore down on us as we headed for home was unforgettable. That kind of extreme weather (it was hard to stand up in the wind and the snow burned every millimeter of skin that was exposed) produced some really stunning images. There were four or five I could have gone with but I chose this one in the end because it conveyed the feeling of feeling of near helplessness I felt being out in that kind of storm. In January I also kicked off a new season of the Taos Land Trust podcast, which I host. I found an awesome new sound editor named Brett Tomadin and we started to look at how we could improve the quality and consistency of the podcasts – which we did. Take a listen. There will many more in 2020 so follow us on Soundcloud to get the latest. I was also invited to join a select group of photographers to document 24 hours in the life of Taos, New Mexico – a street photography project and just the kind of assignment I love.
Best Picture of February 2019
Blue Heron. Velarde, New Mexico. I spent February learning how to make better photographs of birds. And man do I love birds. With friends and while teaching the workshops I made my way up and down the Rio Grande and into Colorado to places like the Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge practicing, learning and watching my favorite creatures. It was a bit of a challenge to not make the best pictures of 2019 all photos of birds.
Best Picture of March 2019
Abandoned farm. San Luis Valley. Colorado. The winter of 2018-2019 was one of those winters like we USED to get when I was a kid. It was long and the snow just kept coming. I’m not a big fan of winter and I hate being cold but there was too much to do. Too much to see. There were numerous trips into the San Luis Valley, a family journey into the Sand Dunes and a trip for just Rasa Lila and myself to Chaco Canyon, Shiprock and the Four Corners region. Check out more of the San Luis Valley here. Also check out the interview I did with Taos Land Trust Executive Director Kristina Ortez.
Best Picture of April 2019
Red-Winged Black Bird, Arkansas River, Colorado. Birds, birds and more birds. Winter dragged on well into spring and I kept chasing the birds . The Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art published my essay on street photography and justice in Havana, Cuba. All the while I kept up as the communications coordinator for the Taos Land Trust, producing the podcasts, videos, blogs and social media for this amazing organization. If you’ve got a few extra clams to throw around at people doing good things then consider supporting the Taos Land Trust.
Best Picture of May 2019
Tetilla Peak. Caja del Rio. New Mexico. May was the month that destroyed my nearly twenty year old Subaru Outback that had taken the kids and I on some pretty awesome road trips over the years. It was the Caja del Rio that did in the poor old beast – but it was on its last legs anyway. The New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, my old home base, asked me to capture the stunning spring bloom on the Caja, an 80,000 acre mesa of public lands west of Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Caja, a wild place if there ever was one, is facing some serious development threats. We want to see this place protected and better managed. I also spent May on the road in northeastern New Mexico for New Mexico Magazine who asked me to write and photograph a story about bird-watching in the region. Northeastern New Mexico is littered with diminutive fenced cemeteries, melting adobe farmhouses, archaeological truck frames, fallen windmills, and neat rows of elms planted in the 1930s to break the back of the winds that bend the prairie each spring. There were more people in northeastern New Mexico in 1900 than there are today. In places like Harding and Union Counties, there are currently more cows than people. And that makes it perfect for some adventurous birdwatching.
Best Picture of June 2019
The best photo of June 2019 and perhaps the most important among all the best pictures of 2019 wasn’t one of mine. My good friend and awesome photographer Angie Higdon photographed my marriage to my soul mate and best friend, Rasa Lila. Oh…AND we did some backpacking and climbed a few mountains and bought a new vehicle since the Subaru got trashed. And we still haven’t decided when and where to honeymoon.
Best Picture of July 2019
Summer Monsoon. Ocate, New Mexico. Monsoon season in the southwestern United States is hands down THE BEST time of the year. I spent several evenings out chasing storms between the mountains and Interstate 25. I caught up with this one…or it caught up with me…near Ocate, New Mexico. I also got up to my hometown of Pueblo, Colorado a place I love to photograph for its diversity, history and struggles.
Best Picture of August 2019
The Pirates Paradise. Lake Powell, Utah. This is a long exposure using a neutral density filter. My brother and some friends went in on a house-boat at Lake Powell. We road-tripped through the Four Corners to the big, problematic lake for a few days of water play with no internet and no other connection except that of the human kind. After that we took our time coming home, hitting arches, some hikes around the archaeological sites near Cortez, Colorado that I used to work at and then Durango for my 49th birthday….and then back to school for the kids and work for Rasa and myself.
The Best Picture of September 2019
Ramona Baca. Farmer. Pecos. Over on the Pecos River north of Santa Fe, New Mexico farmers, fishermen and others from the village of Pecos have joined together to fight for more protections for the watershed that gives life to the people of Pecos and their economies. I spent several days documenting the lives of the people fighting for their waters. Contact Amigos Bravos for more information. These photos will be used in a series of videos telling the story of the work to protect the Pecos using the Outstanding Natural Resource Waters (ONRW) designation. I am also creating a photo essay on my photography site telling the stories of the people I photographed. I hope to have that ready by January 6, 2020. I have to say that I love this series of black and whites and for me they, along with the Cuba captures (below) are the best pictures of 2019 hands down. Ok….I think said that before….
Best Picture of October 2019
Yellow Daze. The Brazos. New Mexico. Here in northern New Mexico we actually have six seasons. Winter, Mud, Spring, Summer, Yellow, Autumn and back to winter. During the yellow season it seems that everything changes to yellow. It isn’t just the aspens and cottonwoods but the añil del muerto, the chamisa and a the grama grasses. Well, all the grasses, really. It is warm in the days and cold at night and it is one of the best times of the year. Second only to the height of the monsoons. It is a great time to be an artist. Besides the photography workshops that got me out to places like this aspen grove in the Tusas mountains west of Taos, the Albuquerque Water Authority hired me to go out and spend some days photographing the infrastructure and route of the San Juan-Chama Water Project. I’m not sure where those pictures will end up actually…..
Best Picture of November 2019
Street ball. Havana, Cuba. Then it was back to Havana, Cuba. The Havana Imagined Street Photography Workshop is now in its fourth year and I have to say we just keep making it better every year. This year we spent most of our time in Havana of course but we also added two days in the Vinales region in the mountains west of the big city. We are starting to have repeat customers. People who, like me, have fallen in love with Cuba and just can’t seem to stay away. Check out the captures from Cuba here. These folks are wanting to see more of this wonderful island and so I’m thinking we skip Havana in 2020. The plan for the next workshop is 10 days in eastern Cuba in January 2021. Then back to Havana in January 2022. I will have the itinerary worked out for eastern Cuba by February 1, 2020. All these workshops are limited to 6 people. So if you are interested, contact me right away and join our Facebook group. Best Pictures of 2019
Best Picture of December 2019
Lenticular clouds at sunset over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains of New Mexico. Keep an eye on The Hopper Magazine as they will publish my short-story “Watercolors” early in January 2020. A sunset seems to be the best way to close out the best pictures of 2019. It is quiet time. Cold. Dark and hopefully peaceful. Thank you for taking the time to walk through the best pictures of 2019…at least according to me. I wish you all a wonderful 2020! Jim