Searching for some vestige of a wild place, New Mexico photographer Michael Berman found the understated Sierra San Luis Mountains along the Mexico border.
Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:
Frederick Hammersley Foundation
...and Viewers Like You
THIS TIME, ON COLORES!
SEARCHING FOR SOME VESTIGE OF A WILD PLACE, NEW MEXICO
PHOTOGRAPHER MICHAEL BERMAN FOUND THE UNDERSTATED
SIERRA SAN LUIS MOUNTAINS ALONG THE MEXICO BORDER.
CELEBRATING AFRICAN-AMERICAN CULTURE, PROJECT ROW
HOUSES IS HELPING TO TRANSFORM HOUSTON'S THIRD WARD.
PHOTOGRAPHER JESS T. DUGAN'S TO SURVIVE ON THIS SHORE
EXPLORES GENDER AND SEXUALITY, ADVERSITY AND JOY.
COLLECTING HISTORICAL LETTERPRESS BLOCKS INSPIRES
ERIN BECKLOFF TO KEEP THE CRAFT OF LETTER PRESS PRINTING ALIVE.
IT'S ALL AHEAD ON COLORES!
HOW DOES ONE SEE WHAT IS THERE?
>>Michael Berman: The first day my mind is like
a jumping bean on a hot pan.
What I'm going to do.
What I'm going to see.
In a few days, I settle down into a routine.
Get up hours before sunrise.
Walk and photograph into dark.
In a week I am lonely.
I wish I had someone to talk with.
In two weeks, I talk with myself.
In three weeks, I see things differently.
>>Berman: Sometimes we look for things that are
the realm of maybe dreams and magic, but that are
beyond our normal every day, and Sierra San Luis
is kind of the crossroads of both.
It's this understated little mountain range that
has somehow always been at the center of things and
is where I ended up on after a long journey of trying
to find some vestige of a wild place along the border.
>>Berman: The border lands are where things happen
and the reason for that is they're unsettled and
unsettled works both ways.
I think they're emotionally unsettled.
Oftentimes when I go to the borderlands I'm just
not in the right place and it's like oh, you know,
kind of feel a little edgy, kind of feel it's a
little dangerous, stuffs happening here.
And where am I going to sleep?
What's going to happen?
But literally, they're unsettled, they're some of
the least populated landscapes in both Mexico and
America and that actually is the reason why the border is there.
It's the hardest place to be.
You know, part of it is the Rio Grande where it's
forming these canyons and part of it is that it is
these desert lands where water is a premium and
it's the space that's much harder to navigate.
These are the landscapes that are all around us but
that we often don't see.
>>Berman: Part of what I'm wound up in is, is that
initial discovery and learning.
So it may be more about learning to see than
seeing that interests me.
Something like the Sierra San Luis is that it's,
it's a tale that's not yet told.
It's what it'll be in the future still in flux.
The Sierra Madres and the Rocky Mountains begin and end there.
Both the Sonoran and Chihuahuan Desert - one
side is the Sonoran Desert, the other side's Chihuahua.
All these things are coming together within the mountains.
>>Berman: One of the things in making
photographs now is, the relationship is much more
fluid so I'm able to carry a smaller camera that
literally I just strap it right here on my chest and
I'm often just making photographs as one would,
this is interesting to look at.
Sometimes I do apply an editorial that I've
learned, like oh, this would make a good photograph.
But there are reasons you make photographs and one is
to share experiences, with friends is something we do.
I had an old friend from high school who has on occasion
has come out to visit me and I've taken him into the woods.
I've left him alone in the dark and scared the wits
out of him so, I sent him like six photographs of
this landscape that I'm working in and at the end
I showed this head of this animal - it's kind of
dried out with these beautiful white large
canines and I told him it was a werewolf and he
actually believed me and I got an email that said,
"Tell me this isn't true," and he was totally freaked out.
"No, no, no, it's just a bear."
He was just like, "Michael's a crazy guy and if anyone's
going to see a werewolf and find them, it's him.
>>Berman: Something that I don't do as much of really,
is that thing; when you step back and look at the landscape.
You, you get perspective.
I often forget to do that because that's not how you
walk through a landscape.
You're not looking around, "Oh what a beautiful mountains."
You're like, "I don't want to step on...
I don't want to step on a cactus...
I don't want to step on a snake.
So often I think my photographs are inclined
to reflect like, looking at the ground, is really
the first and foremost thing.
But there is something more formal for me about
stepping back and, and what is this place.
I know what I'm looking for is a healthy ecosystem.
It's that simple.
And it's the thing I can never find.
>>Berman: In the center of the Sierra San Luis is a
grass and scrub oak kind of forest and then it's
surrounded by a horseshoe of mountains and it's
probably the best wolf habitat I've ever seen.
In my experience, you know I've seen them there and
they've tried to bring them back and they're
rumors that they may exist but at the same time
people I'm friends with have shot and killed the
wolves so it's a complicated world out
there and you have to learn to be part of that.
The photograph is the tool I'm using to connect me to
>>Berman: Often the things that are most important to
us don't exist in the structure of conscious thought
where you're doing something like what language does.
Where you go from one idea to another idea in a coherent way.
So what's nascent within the work it's really, this
thing I don't understand.
When you begin to bring words or images to
something, a lot of traditions have that idea,
is you steal the spirit, but yet it's one of the
ways we communicate and I've chosen to embrace this.
So, it is that realm of catch-22.
Is that you want to tell other people, you know,
like what's in these photographs.
It's the ineffable.
It's the thing, I can never see it's the thing,
I can never speak to.
I'm talking about the way humans see these
landscapes and these you know these landscapes are
inhabited by a broad spectrum of life and we're
only one little part of that.
How do you see what's there?
ENRICHING AND HONORING COMMUNITY.
>>Eureka Gilkey: Twenty-five years ago, you
couldn't even walk down this street if you didn't live
in the neighborhood without some threat of physical violence.
It was considered one of the most dangerous
neighborhoods in the city of Houston.
What the city saw as poverty, blight, crime and
all the social ills that come along with that, the
artists saw as an opportunity to showcase their
work and use their work in a way to enrich the community.
Project Row Houses is a 25-year-old arts and
culture organization based in Houston's Northern Third Ward.
We're located approximately three blocks
from Emancipation Park, a ten-acre park bought by
freed slaves to celebrate their freedom.
We walk on the grounds of freed slaves here every
day and that's not lost on us.
When our most well-known founder Rick Lowe stumbled
upon these houses and he discovered this sight.
He saw it and the other founders thought as this
unique opportunity, right?
So they were able to acquire what was 22
shotgun style rowhouses.
They were able to acquire this site and really work
with the community, renovate, and bring some
life back into these houses, and that is how
the concept of Project Row Houses started.
We foster the creation and exhibition of art
in several ways.
One's through our artist rounds that we have in the
Fall and the Spring of each year, and what the rounds
do is they address whether it's a social, political,
economic, whatever issue, it's curated to address
a theme or issue that's happening in the neighborhood.
We had a couple of rounds ago black women artists
for Black Lives Matter.
A round before that dealt with the fact that art
could be used as a way to address prison reform.
Most importantly, we use the resources that we have
to ensure that the history and culture of this
community is not erased.
We were one of the first organizations to look at,
holistically, what could we do to use our resources
to enrich the community?
Not just beautify the space, but actually bring
some much needed services to bring affordable
housing into the community.
It's a place for young mothers to provide a
sustainable, supportive living environment for
themselves and their children, so they can
reach their professional and personal goals.
Project Row Houses has led, has been a leader in
changing the perceptions of what art is and what it
can do in terms of not only community
development, historic and cultural preservation,
empowering people to see themselves in a different way.
We get people from all over the country that come
in and just want to sit and learn, and this is not
some cookie cutter, here's a tool kit, go, take this in,
into your community, but really explaining to them what it
has taken over the twenty five years for us to get here.
Now it's an institution.
It is deeply rooted.
It's not just in Third Ward.
It is of the Third Ward.
It was this conceptual idea that has transformed
into what many consider to be one of the greatest
social sculptures in the world.
And it just came out of this idea that art could
transform and enrich a community.
CREATING MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS.
>>Jess T. Dugan: My name is Jess T. Dugan.
I'm a photographer who works primarily with
portraiture and often within LGBTQ communities.
I'm here at the Frost Art Museum because my
exhibition To Survive on this Shore: Photographs
and Interviews with Transgender and Gender
Nonconforming Older Adults, is on display in Miami.
In this exhibition, one of my missions is to educate
about issues faced by transgender older adults.
>>Jordana Pomeroy: Jess is more than on the rise.
She's really quite established now as a
photographer who has very much a humanitarian view
of different communities.
>>Dugan: I feel that photography is a very
powerful storytelling vehicle and so I often
have my subjects look right out at the camera
because I really want the viewer to be engaged in a
moment and a relationship with them and to be met by
their gaze and have to think about how they feel,
being in that situation, I want them to reflect on
their own assumptions about the person that
they're looking at and for the act of viewing the
photograph to be a really energized, engaged one,
rather than a passive one.
I want them to be in a moment with them and look
them right in their eyes and feel this very human
connection that I think makes it very difficult to
discriminate against someone or to be hateful
toward someone if you've really come that close to
understanding who they are.
I made this project in collaboration with my
partner Vanessa Fabbre who's a social worker and
Assistant Professor at Washington University in
St. Louis and her research focuses on the
intersection of LGBTQ communities and aging.
So, when we met, we realized we had
overlapping interests from working within the trans
communities and we decided to create this project
that had both the portrait and the interview
narrative from each person.
>>Pomeroy: And it is funny because, you know, there's
always this conversation in museums about how much
text do you want in your text.
You should be looking at the work, but I think in
this exhibition the stories, they enhance the work of art.
They are a necessary component.
>>Dugan: The portraits immediately capture
people's attention, but then the stories allow us
to talk about some of the other issues, some of the
things like housing discrimination or
employment discrimination or fear that people have
about growing older as a transgender person or conversely
joys that they experience or triumphs of their life.
One of the subjects in the exhibition, Justin Vivian,
identifies as non-binary and she spoke about her
decision to take estrogen being motivated in part by
wanting to have a medical record of her transness
because she was worried if she grew older and lost
her ability to advocate for herself that she would
end up being treated as a man.
I met Susie and Cheryl a few years ago and it's
been really great to get to know them because
they're such love between them and they're such a
grounded-ness and commitment that I think is really amazing.
>>Cheryl: All we do is go out in public and just, just be public.
You know, don't hide.
Because we're proud of who we are.
We love each other.
We're not interfering with anybody's lives.
We just want to live our life the best we know how
and to show everybody it's, it's okay.
>> Dugan: Having their story and, you know,
reading about how they were together before Susie
transitioned and their marriage has morphed and
changed but they're more committed and in love than
ever before is really beautiful and really
exciting and I think it gives a lot of hope to
people who may be struggling with that question.
I think there is this focus on youth and there's
not a lot of representations of
transgender older adults and so they wanted to
share their stories and provide a kind of roadmap
for what a life could look like for younger trans
folks who in, in most cases have never seen an
older transgender person.
They've never seen an image of what it might
look like to grow older.
And so, I was incredibly moved by the extent to
which people wanted to help others by sharing
their own story.
HISTORICAL TOOLS CREATE NEW ART.
Letterpress printing is a method of relief printing.
While technology shifted, letterpress printing was
the method of printing for over 500 years.
And it's no longer economically the fastest
way to print, but there's something that people are
still connecting to, and I think that's why it's
become an art and a craft.
My in-laws gave me a small printing press as a
So I got this little printing press, and I
didn't know how to use it.
And so I started reaching out to people in the
letterpress community for help, because you can
search for it on the internet.
And there are some videos, but it's so much better to
go and meet with someone.
And I started to find that there were other people
that cared about this, and there were other people
that had printing presses in their basements or
garages, and it wasn't just people in their 20s and 30s.
It was also people in their 80s, so it was
fantastic to find this community that wanted to
help each other.
There aren't really secrets.
It's everyone wants to help letterpress printing
survive, and so everyone's willing to help each other
out, be it by finding equipment, or teaching a
technique, or learning a new process, or talking
about how to mix ink.
Everybody helps each other.
Letterpress printing, as it became an art form or a
craft, it still has that limited constraint of
working with the wood and the metal, and the wood
and metal type, and the ornaments.
And your collection tends to influence your
aesthetic as a shop.
If you think of someone like Hatch Show Print down
in Nashville, Tennessee, they're using blocks that
might have been used on a Johnny Cash poster and now they're
being used on a contemporary country music poster.
And to think about that collection is then
influencing your aesthetic, when I started
to acquire type, I became very interested in wood type.
I love the beauty of the letters.
I love that so many of the wood type fonts were made over
a hundred years ago, and we're still able to use them today.
I like how big and bold they are, and that was
just something I really connected with.
My dad actually makes wood type the same way that it was
produced for hundreds of years by all the
wood type manufacturers.
So Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, most people
have seen Hamilton on a little drawer pull, that's that group.
They made type using this pantograph method, which
is a dual tracer and router.
And so you trace the pattern of the letter or
the decorative ornament, and then it cuts the type
out of end grain maple.
A lot of my style and aesthetic came from the
fact that my dad, Scott, of Moore Wood Type,
started making type the historic way.
And so I started really exploring how these
ornaments could be used to create form and solids,
and even letter forms and characters.
And so I really like to use my dad's ornaments as
a main component of my work.
But I love the traditional tools of letterpress printing.
The wood and the metal type, the metal type's
really small and can get this very crisp line.
And some of the fonts are only available in wood and metal.
They never made it to the computer, which is just special.
And I just love the history that you know is
in every letter that you're setting.
It's been used before, and so being able to give it
life by continuing to print with it is just
something that I connect to as a tool, and as my
main driving force of my aesthetic as a printer.
[switch clicks on, belt turns]
[rollers tighten and release]
Letterpress printing in a lot of ways is almost meditative.
You become one with the press that you're using.
And if it's your own press, especially, you
start to hear and know the quirks of the press.
And they all have their own sound.
Each press has its own rhythm and music to it.
And especially when you're running one of the larger
presses like my Chandler & Price, C & P, with the
flywheel, you can feel that motion.
I stand against it, and you're a part of the
rhythm of the printing.
You're feeding it the paper, and it continues to run.
You hear the cha-chink, cha-chink of the cast
iron, or you hear the little glitches of the gears.
And it's a wholly immersive experience.
It really makes you slow down, because you can't go
faster than the press.
After getting my very first press, I had a
business for about a year trying to sell commercial work.
That just really wasn't for me.
I tried to do the craft fairs and the art fairs,
and I just really loved making, and I really love people.
So I came back to my alma mater where I received my
undergrad in graphic design, and they had a
letterpress shop that was sitting unused.
And so I had the opportunity to teach a
class to teach students how to be letterpress
printers, which quite honestly, I was still
learning myself, and continue to today.
I started teaching letterpress as an elective.
I had great groups of students for every semester.
So nine years, every semester, we've offered
letterpress printing, sometimes multiple sections.
It's wonderful to watch my students pull their first
print, because they pull that first print off the
press, and just kind of a light goes on.
Watching them discover how fascinating letterpress printing
can be is immensely satisfying and joyful for me.
"Pressing On: The Letterpress Film"
is a documentary about the survival of letterpress
printing, and specifically, the
community that have kept it alive.
It is both the older generation that held onto
the equipment and the knowledge through a time
when letterpress printing was not popular, and also
the new generation that are continuing to keep it going.
I would say that I'm a member of the new
generation, and as I became a part of the
community, and started to make these connections
with these 70 and 80-year-old printers, I
knew that that knowledge was gonna get lost if we
didn't record it in some way.
Through making the film, I got to see the way
letterpress had been a part of all of these
people's lives since they were young.
Some of the older printers in the community had
become apprentices when they were 12 or 15 years
old with their families, and so I got to hear the
way that letterpress printing had driven their
life path, and how special it is to them to know that
there's a young generation that still cares about
this process, this medium, this trade that they love.
The printers that held this knowledge, a lot of
it was never recorded in books.
I've taken on this role as educator and filmmaker,
and created a shop at a university and they seem
to connect to it, and so many of them have gone on
to actually buy their own presses, which I never imagined.
I love that it's a part of their lives, but now they
have their own presses that they're learning how
to use, and learning their presses' quirks.
I love to see that engagement, and that they
want to continue to help be a part of the
Using letterpress printing equipment is what's
keeping it alive.
Having a wood type font sit in a drawer or behind
glass somewhere isn't gonna keep it going.
When you're continuing to print it, it not only is
putting oil back into the wood, and keeping those
characters in good condition, but by printing
it, you're then sharing it with more people, which is
keeping letterpress printing alive.
So it's both the use and the people that are
continuing to keep letterpress going.
TO VIEW THIS AND OTHER COLORES PROGRAMS GO TO:
New Mexico PBS dot org and look for COLORES under
What We Do and Local Productions.
Also, LOOK FOR US ON FACEBOOK AND INSTAGRAM.
"UNTIL NEXT WEEK, THANK YOU FOR WATCHING."
Funding for COLORES was provided in part by:
Frederick Hammersley Foundation
...and Viewers Like You