Edward Ranney discusses his work photographing ancient sites at the New Mexico Museum of Art
Edward Ranney has amassed a large body of work from decades of photographing the fabled Nazca geoglyphs in Peru. The hundreds of geoglyphs range from simple lines, triangles, spirals, and other geometric figures to simplified images of condors, monkeys, fish, birds, spiders, and flowers. Because of the vast scale of the designs, their shapes can only be discerned from the sky.
The geoglyphs have often been photographed since a New York university professor spotted them from an airplane in 1939. But Ranney’s approach is unique: He focuses his cameras on aspects of the figures at ground level. “My interest, because I couldn’t get high enough to photograph from the air, was the foothills,” he told Smithsonian magazine in December. “I wanted to stick to working to the ground. And I found that the more I saw different patterns, the more intriguing it became, because these lines really change the landscape.”
He first traveled to Peru in 1964 and 1965 on a Fulbright Fellowship. He used a 35mm Leica and medium-format Rolleiflex to photograph Inca ruins near Cusco, as well as landscapes in the area and the Quechua people. His photos in the 1982 book Monuments of the Incas (with writer John Hemming) were made using a view camera. “I feel the large format gives me a special way of recording the space and feeling of each site, as well as providing a deeply satisfying working experience,” Ranney said in a July 21, 2014, interview that is posted on the PetaPixel blog.
For most view-camera work, the photographer must use a tripod, load individual sheets of film, and focus carefully under a black cloth. Ranney, a Santa Fe resident since 1970, said that “the process of extended walking and working slowly in the more remote, seldom-visited areas is in keeping with the nature of the glyphs.”
His mid-1960s sojourn in Peru was the beginning of an annual pilgrimage to photograph the geoglyphs. For the past 30 years, he has also photographed ancient sites in the desert locales of northern Chile and western Peru — he calls it the Andean Coastal Survey.
On Friday, March 6, at 5:30 p.m., Ranney gives a free tour of his solo exhibition North to South and talks about his work and his efforts to photograph ancient habitations along the coastal Americas at the New Mexico Museum of Art (107 W. Palace Ave., 505-476-5072). The event is part of the yearlong cycle Focus on Photography at the museum. North to South , which shows more than 40 photographs, hangs through April 19.
— Paul Weideman
Edward Ranney: The Condor Stone, Machu Picchu, Peru (detail), 1975, gelatin silver print