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Behind the Photo – Field Notes from Steve Fitch

photo-eye Gallery Behind the Photo:
Field Notes from Steve Fitch
In this Behind the Photo segment, we share an excerpt from Steve Fitch's new monograph Vanishing Vernacular where Fitch lends context to images also included in his exhibition.

Vanishing Vernacular by Steve Fitch, installed at photo-eye Gallery

As our Vanishing Vernacular exhibition by Steve Fitch enters its final week, we are excited to share an excerpt from the epilogue of Steve's new monograph. In this passage, Fitch offers a collection of his field notes corresponding with a number photographs he's made over the last 38 years. Each of the works listed below is in the current exhibition.

Vanishing Vernacular will be on view through Saturday, May 19th; please feel free to stop by the gallery for a last look at this comprehensive body of work. photo-eye Gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday 10:00 am to 5:30 pm or by appointment.

January 10, 1983.

Jaguar with Rattlesnake Tail Petroglyph, Three Rivers, NM; January 10, 1983, Archival Pigment Ink Print, 16x20” Image, Edition of 12, $2000 © Steve Fitch

Prehistoric American Indian petroglyphs and pictographs, unlike the subjects in most of the photographs in this book, are not usually found along roads but in the open landscape or along trails. They are most often on south-facing rocks or cliff walls, many times at locations with views or at the junction of two rivers. This petroglyph, probably more than 1,000 years old, has been described as a “jaguar with a rattlesnake tail” on an information kiosk at the Three Rivers petroglyph site in Lincoln County, New Mexico. It commands a view of the Oscura Mountains and, beyond them, the Jornada del Muerto and Trinity Site, where the world’s first nuclear explosion occurred on July 16, 1945.

December 19, 1980. 

Texan Motel, Highway 64, Raton, New Mexico: December 19, 1980, Archival Pigment Ink Print, 16x20” Image, Edition of 12, $2000 © Steve Fitch
The Texan Motel with the two lone stars is in Raton, New Mexico, not Texas. The doors of the rooms are yellow, turquoise, or red, a sequence of door colors I have seen at many motels in the West. Raton is on U.S. 64, a major highway route connecting Texas to Taos and northern New Mexico, so the name “Texan Motel” is not totally out of place, as thousands of Texans pass by it every year.

July 1990. 

Lillian Redman, Blue Swallow Motel, Rt.66, Tucumcari, New Mexico; July 1990, Archival Pigment Ink Print, 16x20" Image, Edition of 12, $2000, ©Steve Fitch
The Blue Swallow Motel, located on U.S. 66 (aka Route 66), survives in another one of my gateway towns, Tucumcari. It is the classic sign and motel by which all other Route 66 motels, from Chicago to Los Angeles, should be, and are, compared. Lillian Redman, the owner of the Blue Swallow, who was in her 80s when I made this photograph, turned the motel’s office into a veritable museum of things Blue Swallow and Route 66. Her husband once made a painting of a blue swallow that was used as the template for the neon swallow; the painting is prominently displayed in the motel’s office. Lillian has died, but the Blue Swallow lives on in all of its glory, with a new series of owners who have taken pride in and maintained the sign and motel.

March 23, 1982. 

Arrow Motel, Highway84, Espanola, New Mexico, March 23,1982, Archival Pigment Ink Print, 16x20” Image, Edition of 12, $2000 © Steve Fitch
U.S. 84 is the main drag through Española, New Mexico, near where the Spanish first settled in New Mexico in 1598. The Chama River joins the Rio Grande here, and dozens 
of low-rider cars cruise by on Friday and Saturday nights. Española has been one of my “gateway towns,” which means that I passed this sign for the Arrow Motel, with its animated bow and arrow, dozens of times over the years. Sadly, the motel has closed, and I have lost a familiar beacon that signaled me home from many trips.

May 22, 1981. 

AA Motel, Holdrege, Nebraska, May 22, 1981, Archival Pigment Ink Print,
 16x20" Image, Edition of 12,  $2,000©SteveFitch 
The AA “MODERN” Motel with “CAMPING” sits next to railroad tracks and U.S. 6 in Holdrege, Nebraska, located slightly east of the 100th meridian in central Nebraska, the traditional line of demarcation for the West. The problem with using “modern” on a sign is that it is hard for the motel to keep up with the word. When I made this photograph, I was on my way to Antigo, Wisconsin, to learn how to bend neon.

Vanishing Vernacular: Western Landscapes
Signed Hardbound $45.00
If you're interested in knowing more about Vanishing Vernacular or would like advice on collecting work by Steve Fitch, please contact Gallery Staff at:
505.988.5152 x202 or

Prices listed were current at the time this post was published.