In Search of Domínguez and Escalante: Photographing the 1776

Pasó por aquí…passed by here. Retracing the extraordinary Fray Domínguez and Escalante expedition of 1776 in the southwest.

AIRED: October 09, 2021 | 0:27:43

Frederick Hammersley Foundation...

New Mexico PBS Great Southwestern Arts & Education

Endowment Fund at the Albuquerque Community Foundation

...and Viewers Like You.















>>Greg MacGregor: This expedition is an exciting read.

The diaries are well written.

The Spanish are amazing writers in those years.

This is true about this journals.

The journals are filled with descriptions of

people, places, it's like a story.

You don't know if it's going to end successfully or not.

It has a beginning.

It has an end.

It has adventure.

It's got danger.

They're starving, they're lost, their instruments don't work.

>>Greg MacGregor: The photographs in this

project are driven by the text, always.

I would read the diaries and find out - where are they?

And what amazed them?

The picture of the San Juan river was a special

photograph because they were lost in the mountains

between Dulce and that river.

When they bust out onto that river, it's a sign of delight.

They kind of know where they are.

It's times like that that I also stop and look at this river.

And it's easier for me to imagine the story.

Hence you make pictures in those kinds of places, special places.

>>Greg MacGregor: At the Grand Mesa Encounter

with the 80 Utes and all their teepees and

wives and kids, a significant thing happens with them.

They finally have a guide.

Up to this point there's nobody guiding them anywhere.

This expedition was the first exploration of the

Northern Territories of the Spanish empire.

Expedition failed in more ways than it succeeded,

for instance, they were supposed to discover why

the Indians at Utah Lake had beards.

The myth was it was a lost tribe of Spanish soldiers,

but of course, that didn't work out.

>>Greg MacGregor: One of the primary goals

of this expedition is to Christianize the Indians

and look for future Spanish settlements.

The expedition spends two days, two precious days

talking to the natives, which they call the fish eaters.

They talk about the fish, wildlife,

the rivers that dump into it.

It has four major streams, each of them bigger than

the Rio Grande dumping into this thing.

Somewhere in the month of October they realized

they've got to make a decision whether to

continue west or not.

It was starting to snow.

Bernardo Miera, who was the cartographer and the

most senior member of the expedition, tells them

that it's only five days march to California.

He was totally wrong.

They decide to make a decision by drawing lots

and the deal is, if they decide to go west to

California, Miera is going to be the boss.

It's almost like a mutiny.

No one knows how they do the lots, but it turns out

the decision was to come back to Santa Fe.

It's a good thing they didn't because there's

like, five mountain ranges in Nevada, in the Sierra Nevada

mountains in California which are 400 miles

long full of snow at that time of the year.

We would never have heard of these guys if they had

lost that decision.

>>Greg MacGregor: The expedition is

approximately two-thirds of the way home at this point.

The obstacle in the way now is the Colorado River

and how to get across it.

It was a known river at the time.

What was not known, was the great that they had

the Grand Canyon in the middle of it.

>>Greg MacGregor: At Horseshoe Bend, they're

still looking for a crossing site.

Traveling along the cliffs, trying to get

down, up and across the river and back up the other side.

During that time, it's going to take them 12 days

to find that crossing site where they go down, can't

get across the river, cancel it.

Go back up, try it another time.

The only problem was getting the horses down

and make that work you had the chop holes in the

sandstone cliffs where they put the horse's hoofs.

Along this route they're going to carve their

initials in a wall.

Past here in the year 1776, which stands now today

as the only hard evidence of where they were at a given time.

The Spanish government wasn't able to settle any

of these wonderful areas that they discovered for

potential settlements because they didn't have any money.

They were busy fighting and joining the

Revolutionary War on the East Coast and they didn't

have enough priests to supply these missions.

>>Greg MacGregor: Part of this project is to

comment on the legacy of exploration, you know,

I'm photographing, making images of junkyards and

cities and that's part of it, is to look at the

legacy of what happened as a consequence of these

exploration trips.


(elegant rock music)

I'm interested in like creating the stage

that the audience can kind of come into.

(elegant rock music)

Art to me has always been involved in my life.

I grew up around the DIA, I used to go visit the

museum when I was a kid, I would walk through the galleries.

But as far as like inspiration, that came

from my mom, Sabrina Nelson, because I would

see her do these large paintings.

Just the idea to look at a canvas that's blank or a

piece of paper and her just make something,

was always interesting to me.

The way that I begin my work is usually through

sketches and ideas.

It is usually that I have a thought and I have a process.

And I sketch out or I think about that thought

and I say what is the best way to portray this

thought or to talk about this idea?

So that can go to sculpture, that can go to drawing,

that can go to video, that can go to painting,

but the majority of the time I'm interested

in a massive narrative.

We're in the David Klein Gallery and the show is called


And the show is about considering how black men

rest and relax and take time for themselves.

What happened was I was working on a body of work

where I was thinking about myself personally and how

I move my body through the world and how the world

considers me as a black man.

And then I had brain surgery.

I had brain surgery and literally I was forced to rest.

So that made me think about things historically,

like how did historic black men that we know and

the world knows, like a Martin Luther King or a

Malcolm X or a W.E.B Du Bois, and when we look up

their names, they're always speaking really

loud, they're on the podium, they're always active.

In times of turmoil, like what we're dealing with today

as far as everything politically and socioeconomically,

how do I rest?

'cause we're kind of in a similar state and in some ways,

in some senses as far as education and other things

like that, it's worse, it's gone backwards instead of forwards.

So, but at the same time we're human.

So these men took vacations, they took time

with their family, they took naps.

So I started to think about that and the work

presents a question, because I don't have the answer.

So how do black men rest, how do they relax, and

what does that look like?

It has to do with just the history of America in that

black men and black people just in general, we're in

the process of constantly having to stay ahead just

to catch up economically.

Since we got to the country or the Americas,

we were slaves.

It was things that the country were built on the

labor that we put in.

So that is passed down as far as trying to catch up,

you have to work extremely hard.

So the idea of resting and relaxing is not a part of

the process when you're always thinking about what

do I need to do next?

Silverpoint is a technique that was used in the 16th

and 15th century.

And it's literally a piece of silver and drawing with

a piece of silver.

Most of the silverpoint drawings that have the

historical, like the larger ones that have the

historical figures in the background, it's a concept

and idea is that can a black man look relaxed and

calm and present himself in that way, but also at

the same time be powerful?

Like I'm letting the background, the historical

figures do all the work for me, while I relax.

And I think that's part of the importance and a part

of the process.

I like the amount of texture and detail that

went into the silverpoint, but there's a limited

number of values that you can reach.

So no matter what I draw, no matter how hard the

subject matter is, there's always gonna be this

softness to it and I really like that.

The other thing I really like about silverpoint is

that you can't erase.

So it's almost like drawing with a pen,

whatever you put down is permanent.

So everything that goes into that drawing,

you're gonna have to deal with it, right?

It's there to exist forever.

Another thing I like is that in dealing with silverpoint,

you're literally leaving behind silver on paper.

So you're creating something that has initial value.

And with the work that I was working on,

I'm dealing with a subject matter that people don't

see as valuable, America often sees as unvalued as

far as black men and also this idea of rest

and this idea of relaxing.

So I think that material has worked for me really

well, and thinking about these ideas and concepts.

There's one piece in particular in the show.

I read this book called Medical Apartheid, it has

to do with the experimentation on black

people from slavery to contemporary times.

And I also got this huge photography book called

Stiffs, Skulls and Skeletons.

Through that book, you can see how they experimented

and practiced on cadavers.

And most of the cadavers you will see are black or

African-American cadavers.

And the way that that happened is they were like,

well, we don't really care about this community,

so we can dig up these graves and use these bodies.

So those bodies became objects,

they weren't even people anymore.

So it was like, well, the thing that just happened

to me with my brain surgery, what would that

look like back in these times?

And I wanted to show opposition to that that

shine the light on me as a person, as a human being

instead of an object, and kind of mute the light on

the figures that are above me.

The American bulldog, for me it's a literal

representation of the history of America and I

use it as a symbol for America itself.

And often you'll find the dog is sleeping or

relaxing as it's ignoring really big issues that are

happening right above it.

I include history in my work because as far as

social issues, we kind of roll around all the time

back to similar issues over and over again.

So I look at the past and I consider it,

and I'm saying well, what was happening then kinda looks like

What did they do then, what can we do now, what

can we do to change it and what does that look like?

I think there's a ton of stuff to take away from this show.

I think about a lot of different narratives that

go into one piece, but there's a lot of stuff

that I don't think about.

And I think those are the important things that

people that come and see the show that they can

pull out for themselves.

I think it's important for the people to answer.

Well these are the things that I noticed, these are

some ideas that I'm thinking about, this is a

question that I have, and I think it becomes more

participatory that the people that come and see

the show, they provide the answers.

I think hearing their perspective and hearing

their ideas about resting and what that looked like

for them was extremely important.

I think hearing my dad talk about how he's worked

since he was 16 years old and talking about his

perspective was important.

But I think the most important thing that

happened after the show was I went into the

barbershop and one of the barbers that was in there,

he told me after seeing my show he literally took a

week off of work.

And then also hearing that several men after seeing

the show were going outside and crying, which

is like they honestly never thought in this way.

So I think those were probably the most

important things that happened.

(soft lively music)


Lewis Miller: Flowers were always part of my DNA.

I come from a family of gardeners, but I went from

landscape and horticulture to the flower world and here I am.

The flower flash was something that was kind of

bopping around my brain for a while.

It didn't have a name.

It was sort of more this vague idea of how to take

flowers and fuse them in an urban city environment.

So it finally got to the point a couple years ago

where I was very satisfied with business things going

super well and kind of needing to feel creatively

energized again, but also feeling the need in my own

way to give back.

I'm clearly surrounded by flowers on a daily basis,

as are my clients, and we tend to get immune to how

beautiful they are and what an expression of joy

they are to people.

And it's really about taking that which is so

beautiful and ephemeral and kind of merging it

with the texture and the grit of our urban city

life and creating something that's very

spontaneous, very fleeting, and sort of abstract.

We spend a great deal of time, you know, really

finding locations that feel New York first.

So that combined with the season, what's looking

good and also, the flower flashes are an

accumulation of old flowers in the flower

market, stuff that's left over from the studio, and

stuff that's left over from events, so we have to

work with that as well.

These flashes happen very quickly.

We plan it to a certain extent then we just do it

and see what happens.

There's a little anxious energy, you know, it's usually dark.

A lot of times it's cold.

The flowers are for New Yorkers.

They are for the people, and I want people to take

them and interact with them.

Obviously, take a picture, but take a blossom,

take some home.

New York is New York.

All these people piled on top of each other.

To me, you know, the two biggest luxuries in the

city are nature and space, so the more that we can

have these kind of soft moments of just beauty and

joy for no other reason, even if it's for an hour

or ten minutes, its job is done.


(soft piano music)

- The most important thing you can do

is invest yourself in the work and be willing

to take and use what is most appropriate,

in terms of the skill, to get your idea across.

Since I was a kid, I always loved art.

But I also liked medicine as well.

So, actually, when I was in high school, I had an

internship down at Receiving Hospital doing autopsies.

That experience gave me a different perspective on

the human body, about being us.

And eventually, that found its way into my work.

What you see in terms of my paintings and my

sculptures is no the way I was trained.

Back in the '70s, you were pretty much discouraged

from doing anything that was illusionist like I paint.

You were also discouraged from doing anything with the figure.

But I finally went in that direction and it seemed

like endless possibilities, as opposed to a dead end.

So, I went there.

I'm making an illusion, it's just a magic trick.

I wanna see where I can take and use illusion to

make metaphor, to use symbol to relate to different issues.

The inspiration can come from any place.

You take an idea and you run with it, and you

develop it 1,000 different ways and explore wherever

it will take you.

If you have the guts to go to places that were quote

forbidden, fine.

It's not about starting in any specific way.

So sometimes I might see something that sparks an

idea and it goes in my sketchbook.

I might work that and develop an idea.

Then again, it might take five years before that idea,

which I see in that sketchbook over and over and over,

kinda coalesces with other things that I see.

And suddenly wow, these things go together and

they make a different thing than I wanted to say

before, but it's unique.

Ideally, what I like to do when working in series, is

take an idea and I'm exploring different things

that are relative to that.

And trying to explore as many as I can

and develop images from them.

So they're all gonna be different.

The series that I'm working on now,

which is the Secrets.

So I solicited secrets across the internet.

And people sent me personal secrets.

Everyone's secret is not unique.

In fact, I had very few unique secrets.

By using that secret, not as an illustration of what

they sent, but talking about more internal feelings,

and developing an image based on that idea.

Some of the secrets were more personal, less political.

Some were more political, less personal.

Some of the secrets were legal issues.


But it was enlightening.

The biggest secret that Americans keep right now

seems to be suffering from depression, and everything

that goes with that.

And so, because of that, it became the largest

painting that I was gonna do in the series.

And I wanted to take on that being otherworldly

and right in this world at the same time, because

that is what we do.

Depression is something you are right in this

world, yet you can't take a point of view that keeps

you in this world.

There's another painting in the show that is

someone who was in love with their best friend and

couldn't tell them.

And it was about sexuality, and about

choice, and about also the hiding.

And that internal struggle is what I tried

to get on the canvas.

And then there was a lot of people who are hiding

sexual orientation, drugs and addictions to either

food or different drugs and alcohol.

There was lots of, lots of stuff for me to explore.

Some of the people actually wrote again to

tell me how cathartic it was, that they've been

holding this secret for 45 years and never told anyone.

And that the experience of putting it down and

sending it out released them in a way.

The Carbon series started with a trip to the Middle East.

And I was most impressed by this intersection of

politics and religion and the carbon.

The carbon was a part of all the decisions.

In religion, dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

Us, as human beings, we are carbon.

In the Middle East, so much of what was going on

was not just about religion, but the

religions controlling other carbon issues,

resource carbon issues, political carbon issues.

And this intersection where all of this was

coming together gave me a notion about this carbon

series and then a series of paintings called

Politics and Religion.

And the two are integrated.

So the Carbon series was drawings and everything I

did was made out of carbon, about carbon.

And the paintings were more about the political

and the religious aspects of this carbon system.

My process has always been starting from a blank sheet

When you start with a drawing that has no

direction, everything is possible.

And I'll use the drawing, and I will make hundreds

of drawings until one strikes me as making that

agenda hit as much as possible, being as direct

to what I want to say.

And then when I start painting, it's still a moving target.

And things are gonna change when I start painting.

And, either for visual reasons or for content

reasons, this is illusion.

It's not real.

It's just pixels on a page.

And if you think about the pixilation of an image,

this is how painters have always worked.

Only instead of digital pixels, it's a brush stroke.

So every brush stroke is a different color.

And how illusionist you want this work to be is

how often you change the pixels.

I'm changing the pixels as much as I can.

That experience, that illusion, is important to me.

It's not the focus, but it's how I want to get the idea across.

And so if I want to paint a hand or an arm, it'll

probably be 15 different colors.

And I will start with those and then intermix

and change those, depending on how it goes.

My paintings are not about paint,

it was about what I wanted to say.

You take an idea and you make an image.

And I've been fortunate enough to have moved enough

people that they will give me a platform, meaning shows.

Whether it's galleries or museums when you get the

work out there, people come and see the work.

I'll get letters back saying, oh, this affected

me, that affected me.

I think that's the communication factor.

That's that image transferring information

from one person to another.

You're trying to affect someone.

You could go in a closet and make all your work,

and burn the closet down.

You fulfilled only half of the issue of the arts.

The arts is communication.

Without the audience,

you have not fulfilled all the mission.

(soft piano music)


New Mexico PBS dot org and look for COLORES under

What We Do and Local Productions.



Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:

Frederick Hammersley Foundation...

New Mexico PBS Great Southwestern Arts & Education

Endowment Fund at the Albuquerque Community Foundation

...and Viewers Like You.



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