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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   December 2009


Picturing the Possibilities

David Salcido maintains a dual focus as a photographer and as the new manager of the Rio Grande Theatre in Las Cruces.

By Jeff Berg

What makes David Salcido click? And click some more?

David Salcido
Photos by David Salcido. Dramatic Restoration: The historic, and recently refurbished, Rio Grande Theatre in downtown Las Cruces. Lots of memories connected to that place. Lots more being made now that Im back.

"We recently spent a weekend in Lincoln, and I took over 1,000 shots. It was like I could 'see' the ghosts in my camera. Nothing much has changed there — actually, how much has changed there?" Salcido muses aloud.

Salcido is a recent returnee to New Mexico, coming back to Las Cruces in August 2008 after a hiatus of 25 years, during which he lived in Austin, San Francisco and, most recently, in Phoenix. A native of Ruidoso, he has also lived in Tularosa and Alamogordo, and has always been involved in the arts.

Salcido is first and foremost a photojournalist. But he is taking a sabbatical of sorts from that now, since he was hired earlier this year as the manager of Las Cruces' downtown Rio Grande Theatre, which is under the auspices of the Doa Ana Arts Council (DAAC).

Although commercially and artistically successful in Phoenix, Salcido says his return to New Mexico was based on several things. "I got tired of the rat race in Phoenix. There are growing traffic problems, people were getting meaner because of that, and I got tired of mean people."

He goes on, "I was always in love with the Organ Mountains and want to write a book about them some day. I even tripped here when I was living in Tularosa years ago. I also like the blend of culture and history that New Mexico has. But I also always wanted to live in places like San Francisco or Tucson, and knew I could survive on my art — I've been freelancing for 25 years."

By his own count, he has had 1,500 articles and other pieces in print over the years, which included freelance work for numerous publications, starting two art magazines while in Phoenix, and also working for Paramount Studios.

Salcido was certainly an apt candidate to work for DAAC, which has been part of the never-ending struggle to bring people to downtown Las Cruces on a regular basis, an issue that Phoenix also dealt with.

"Downtown Phoenix in the early 1990s was pretty much boarded up, and I became involved with Art Link, a Phoenix arts advocacy group," he recalls. "I was a founder of the First Friday Art Walk [something that Las Cruces now imitates, but which started before Salcido's return to the area], worked to get three different theater troupes in, and opened a performance space/gallery, Soul Invictus, which is still operated by my former partners."

Downtown Phoenix has certainly turned around over the years, offering that megalopolis a taste of the arts like it has not had before.

Salcido also had several shows of his own photo work in Phoenix galleries.

In spite of his current "day job" at the Rio Grande, which often keeps him busy up to 16 hours a day, photography remains Salcido's main interest.

David Salcido
Portal : Taken at the 2009 Spring Showcase of Homes in Las Cruces. Kind of feels Tuscan. Maybe that was the point.

"When I was really young, my mom had an old camera that I would use," he recalls. "Later, an uncle gave me a single-lens Reflex, and in junior high, I started using that to take pictures, and then I later worked on my high school yearbook."

Salcido attended NMSU and took some photojournalism classes, before leaving Las Cruces.

"I started taking pictures of people, I would take rolls and rolls of shots. I guess I thought it was journalistic at the time. I was interested in catching people doing what they the do, but over the years, I became more interested in form and function."

As examples he notes the difference in photos taken at certain times of the day, or a favorite subject, ghost towns. "They have a certain pattern, close to a waterway and so on. I had a pattern of taking pictures of places."

Salcido says he does receive some criticism now for not using people as photo subjects, but he reinforces his commitment to his art.

"Photography is more than a hobby for me. It has the same kind of release as writing," he says of his freelancing career, which is on hold due to his commitment to the Rio Grande. "I never did it for the 'glory' of writing — and I hesitate to call photography a 'hobby.' If I go too many days without doing it well, it is just something I need to do."

Salcido gently laments the fact that he can't devote all of his time to his art. He has been at the Rio Grande for only five months, but has already made a difference in the number of events that take place there. It has become what it was meant to be — a venue for the arts, all types of art from music to performance to film, with several performances a week.

The jury is still out on these changes, as Salcido notes that attendance hasn't been what he had hoped for, ranging from nearly none to hundreds, depending on the event. But he has the full backing of the DAAC board, and has received tremendous support from Dave Edwards, his predecessor, who retired earlier this year.

"I remember the last time I was in the theater when I lived here previously," Salcido says. He smiles and adds, "It smelled like feet."

Things were different by 2008. "When I decided to return to Las Cruces, I contacted several people about work, and Dave Edwards responded." Edwards, the former manager of the Rio Grande, has helped as an ad hoc advisor and navigator for Salcido, offering guidance through the minefields that populate the arts community of Las Cruces.

Prior to working for the DAAC, Salcido was a volunteer, and had a show at one of the galleries that welcome visitors to the Rio Grande, his first solo affair in many years.

"I had my first real show in Phoenix in the 1990s," he says. "I used to exhibit a lot in Phoenix, but I started to concentrate more on writing. There was a decline in the shows, then I started using my work for web design and publishing. In my first show, I sold half of the photos that were in it."

Salcido, like most photographers, no longer uses film, but is quietly nostalgic for his favorite 35mm camera, a Canon AE-1. He had used it from high school on, but it was stolen several years ago.

Smiling, he adds, "I don't use film, but that's partially because I am just lazy. It's partly about our need for instant gratification when it comes to art." Similarly, he compares typing on his laptop to his previous use of a Smith-Corona.

"I want my photos to capture exactly what my eyes see," Salcido continues. "I can take 100 breathtaking pictures, but not one might match exactly what my eye sees. But then I can look at a photo and say, that's exactly what my eye saw. It captures the feeling I had when I shot it."

As influences, he cites Ansel Adams, Annie Leibowitz, Melissa Maples and the work of photographers who did tintype work in the early days of the art.

"When I saw those tintypes, that's when I realized that photography was magic," Salcido says. "Now I am on a never-ending pursuit to capture what I saw, too."


For this month's events at the Rio Grande Theatre,
see the 40 Days and 40 Nights section.



Senior Writer Jeff Berg lives in Las Cruces.




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