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for people who care about the West

Book Review: The Black Place: Two Seasons


The Black Place: Two Seasons
photographs by Walter W. Nelson,
essay by Douglas Preston
108 pages, clothbound:
Museum of New Mexico Press, 2014

In the 1930s, while driving through northwest New Mexico, artist Georgia O'Keeffe stumbled upon a remote, uninhabited landscape she dubbed "The Black Place" – tall hills of layered sediment, coated in brown and black oxidized volcanic ash and dotted with white quartz patches from ancient riverbeds. A half-century later, photographer Walter Nelson, intrigued by O'Keeffe's paintings and sharing her "great affinity for geology," visited the Black Place more than 30 times to capture its essence in large-format black-and-white and digital color images. In The Black Place: Two Seasons, Nelson documents the area's two distinctive "visual seasons" – a summer landscape scorched by sun and wind, and a winter one where snow "sculpted by violent winds sweeping across earth forms" renders the place too fantastical for words. Indeed, with just six pages of text and 65 pages of photographs, Nelson lets this extraordinary landscape speak for itself.