Ed­ward Ran­ney dis­cusses his work pho­tograph­ing an­cient sites at the New Mex­ico Mu­seum of Art

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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

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