At one point, he even got stranded on a highway by a pack of sheep that nonchalantly stalled cars as they crossed the blacktop, several dozen deep. “For me to be allowed in, that’s one of the joys of being a photographer,” Mauskopf said.
Northern New Mexico can be a sad land marked by violence and familial circles of drug addiction. The problem is compounded by decades of negative press coverage that threatens to blot out any positive depictions of the region’s art, culture, and family traditions. “I stayed away from the prisons,” Mauskopf said. “There are things that people dwell upon.” Instead, he wisely chose a soft focus on the region’s troubles, taking photos of the artifacts of violence — a cross covered in memorial photos nailed to a cottonwood, a help poster seeking info on the murder of a family member.
Any verbal context that Mauskopf’s photos need is ably provided by “Singing at the Gates,” a sprawling poem by Jimmy Santiago Baca, which appears at the end of the book. Baca is a Chicano poet and screenwriter who has been writing about New Mexico barrios for several decades. Mauskopf said that Baca agreed to write the poem after looking at hundreds of his photos, many of which never made their way to the book. In the free-flowing, Whitmanesque lines of his poem, Baca creates an alternate history of Northern New Mexico. “Generation after generation / La Raza’s people-priest wears a bandana,/ stations himself among la gente, rattling our tambourines./ wearing our Matachine mask,/ from ancient ninety year old abuelitas / who make who we are burn bright, unfold and rumble deep.”
The book is the work of an insider poet looking outward and an outsider photographer gaining enough respect to be let in. The blend of Mauskopf’s and Baca’s visions of Northern New Mexico is familiar and yet unlike anyone else’s. Mauskopf says that he works in the documentary tradition, but the last thing he wants is for anybody to consider this book any sort of definitive account of the region. Citing the words of photographer Richard Avedon, Mauskopf said that he believes that “all photographs are accurate; none of them are the truth.”