Today's Albuquerque Museum's Docent training was about
a new photo exhibit by Kirk Gittings called "Shelter from
the Storm". Mr Gittings spoke to the docents for about an
hour discussing his photography. It was a fantastic
opportunity to learn from the artist himself. Rather than
describe the morning, I'm including a copy of an article
about the photographer. If you are interested you should
or visit: visit
To view Kirk Gittings' photography is to revisit New Mexico's history
Special to NMBW
Afternoon light streams through the caf?'s grand windows, but Kirk
Gittings' face is shadowed. In the midst of a
project for a local architecture firm, the artist and commercial
photographer, teacher and writer, has taken time out to
talk about his new book, "Shelter from the Storm: The Photographs of
The book, with text by Gussie Fauntleroy and a foreword by poet V.B.
Price, is the latest offering from the New
Mexico Magazine Photo Series.
In the past, Gittings has been included in 30 other photography and
architecture books and three other "solo effort,"
themed publications. "Shelter," is, however, his first architectural
retrospective. In documenting New Mexico's
architecture through his camera lens, the book shows the histories of
both New Mexico and the artist.
Each of Gittings' four solo-effort books to date has satisfied "a
different artistic need," says Gittings. His growth as an
artist, however, is poignantly reflected in the differences between his
first, "Chaco Body," and "Shelter from the
Gittings expects "Shelter" will appeal to a broader, more commercial
audience than "Chaco Body," which is "like an
art book -- a concise statement, where V.B. Price and I controlled the
look and flow and everything. 'Shelter from the
Storm' is a book about me, by New Mexico Magazine. It's how they see me,
from a broader perspective of a
"Chaco Body" was a self-published, limited edition portfolio, which sold
out to private and public collectors,
including the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History, the University of
New Mexico and the University of Arizona.
A labor of love, dedication and personal drive that took 12 years to
complete, it was ultimately picked up for
publication by ArtSpace Press in 1991.
He refers to "Chaco Body" as "how you get rejected time after time even
as you know it's good. It's ultimately
gratifying when it finally comes to light. And that was when I was 31.
This, ['Shelter from the Storm'] is another thing
all together. I'm 55, and people come to me saying they want to print a
book of my work. I feel that for all these
years, I was pushing a rock uphill. Now there are others working with me."
Gittings has been a photographer since as far back as he can remember.
"I grew up with a darkroom in my house," he says, crediting his father.
His undergraduate degree from UNM was in photography but, upon
graduating, he spent six years doing other
things, "getting away from what my UNM professors wanted me to be," he
explains. He theorizes that while he wasn't
shooting, he was still processing, however subconsciously, how he would
shoot when he started again. And he did
start again, picking up the camera in 1978. He hasn't really put it down
"Shelter from the Storm" evolved from a casual party conversation. New
Mexico Magazine wanted to do a
photography book, and someone mentioned that a retrospective of
Gittings' architectural photography would be a
good idea. Since Gittings' architectural work is what enables him to
travel and exhibit nationwide, and to be
published in major trade and consumer magazines, books and collections,
Eight months later, he submitted his selections -- two hundred of them.
The task of choosing only 75 images out of the two hundred submitted,
and arranging them in an order that made
sense, was daunting.
Bette Brodsky, New Mexico Magazine's special projects design director,
did a "masterful job in creating a good
flow," says Gittings. "The book is arranged in three groups: prehistoric
architecture, all in black and white; historic
architecture, in black and white and color; and contemporary
architecture, all in color."
Editor Emily Drabanski would call with questions and encouragement on
weekends, since during the work week she
had her hands full putting out the magazine.
"The dedication of everyone was amazing," says Gittings.
The irony here is that while so much of what Gittings does behind the
lens is filtering the subject and material to
match his vision, what happens with his photography -- whether published
in books, magazines, monographs,
catalogues or brochures, when displayed in art exhibits or museums, or
when accompanied by V.B. Price's poetry or
Gussie Fauntleroy's text -- is that others filter his work through their
own vision and sensibility.
"I like collaborating with people who are good," Gittings says. "They
bring solutions to a project when I can't step far
enough back to see them. It's their vision of my work. They see
relationships and threads that I don't see."
A parallel exhibit opens at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History on
September 11, 2005. It, too, is called
"Shelter from the Storm: The Photographs of Kirk Gittings," but is not a
duplicate of the book. Gittings and Museum
Curator of Art Douglas Fairfield pulled images for the show from the
book and from the museum's permanent
collection of Gittings' work. "Same title, but another person's vision
of the last 30 years of my career," says Gittings,
"and that's interesting."
What Gittings' vision has captured is New Mexico. While the focus is
architecture, it is Gittings' talent to transcend
the subject and expose a romance and spirituality that goes beyond
location and light. So, in moving through the
book, you experience the story of a state that has changed. His selected
work is powerful, in part, because he was
there before the structures disappeared or were placed off limits to
"I understand why people want to protect their property, put up gates,
restrict access," he says. Some historic and
religious buildings suffer a backlash of celebrity when their image is
famous, or they're located near famous
attractions. Whether the structures are Puebloan or Penitente, their
caretakers feel taken advantage of, ultimately
shutting out the would-be documentarians.
"Many photos [in the book] were taken a long time ago, when things
weren't so restrictive. There were fewer fences
back then, no signs saying not to take pictures. There are photos taken
in the 1970s that couldn't be taken today."
It is a testament to his professionalism and compassion that Gittings
has nurtured all his old contacts and they'll often
grant him exclusive access to land now closed to the public.
Part of the appeal of "Shelter from the Storm" is that New Mexico has
forever been on the cutting edge of architecture.
From the extraordinary architectural work of Chaco Canyon, believed to
have been a thriving ceremonial or
pilgrimage center in about 850 A.D., to the modern New Mexico
architects, inspired by the light, space and history of
the area, our state has always been known for its architectural styles.
How has the state changed since Gittings first began chronicling its
"We've gone from imitating others to leading the nation, in Albuquerque
in particular. We have architects known
throughout the country," Gittings says. "There are a lot more
photographers now than when I started out. We have
more photographers per capita than any other state. It makes for a good
creative community, but it's not great for
business." And, "we have better bicycle paths [and] coffee shops," he
With that, Gittings goes back to work on his latest project: documenting
the last remaining wall of the original
Alvarado train station in downtown Albuquerque. It is architecture and
history in the making, preserved through his
ever watchful lens.
Publication of "Shelter from the Storm: The Photographs of Kirk
Gittings" is scheduled for early July.