By John Camp
Several months back, a friend of mine volunteered to help "re-mud" one of the most famous pieces of architecture in America, the St. Francis Catholic Church of Ranchos de Taos, just outside of Taos, New Mexico. At the time, I was somewhat taken aback by its surroundings, since in paintings and photos the countryside seems so pristine. My friend and I, visiting from L.A., drove by again Thursday afternoon, and I pulled over to take a snapshot...if you ever wondered what the place really looks like.
Paul Strand (II)
John Camp is a book author. His latest title, Bad Blood: a Virgil Flowers novel, was published by Putnam last September.
This 1934 picture from the Library of Congress collection suggests that commercial encroachment on the Ranchos de Taos Church site is no worse now than it has been in the past (note "T.A. Rivera General Merchandise" store on the left). Photo by James M. Slack (thanks to Rob Atkins for this).
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Original contents copyright 2010 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Andrew Karre: "Reminds me of the Great Sphinx in Egypt. Best view is from a KFC not 500 meters away."
Featured Comment by James: "Stonehenge is another example. When I was a child, we used to regularly drive past it on holidays to Exmoor and Dartmoor, and I loved looking out for those ancient stones set into a broad plain of grass. You could park about half a mile away and walk over to and among the stones, and their essence and starkness stood out like a beacon.
"Nowadays, the stones are surrounded by barbed wire to keep the hippies out, there's a coachpark less than 100 yards away, visitors are confined to a concrete walkway, and any ability to walk among the stones and see their geometry and angles has been lost. My own children are underwhelmed by the sight, and I cannot blame them: all context is destroyed, and they look more like a half-done building project. It's no coincidence that most pictures of Stonehenge are tightly cropped to keep out the modern distractions, and I could only find one showing the wider scene. Even that perspective flatters: the coach park seems further away than the reality, and the wire hadn't been put in when it was taken. It must be about ten years old.
"My cousin now lives in Canada but grew up not far from Stonehenge. Like me, she remembers the original setting, and was upset when she brought her son and Canadian husband to see the stones a couple of years ago."
Rob Young replies to James: "James, this is what Stonehenge looked like in 1959, taken by my aunt."
Featured Comment by Richard: "Remember the Alamo! I was very surprised at the amount of encroachment at the Alamo as well. Seems this is a big problem everywhere."
Featured Comment by Jeff: "I lived in Santa Fe and had a somewhat similar experience when I first visited Taos. But, I was somewhat prepared for the scene since even Ansel Adams, I read, was granted permission to have telephone wires temporarily taken down for his shoot."
Featured Comment by james wilson: "Good news for Ranchos lovers; the wire is down. It was across the parking lot near the rear buttress. It was there 20 years ago when I went to great lengths to avoid it with my 4x5. It was there last year and I shot the wire view in digital and took it out later. This year in July it was gone. Not a big deal any more if you are shooting digital but it looks a lot better and it will make some large format film shooters really happy."
Featured Comment by david bram: "I was recently there (I live in Albuquerque) and spoke to the Priest who is in charge of the place. He said his greatest accomplishment while in charge was to get the power lines removed from the back of the church (the most photographed portion of the church). He also said he was retiring and that the new guy in charge was working on getting the gas meter moved as well."