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GENE MC CLAIN

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DAWN WILSON-ENOCH

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MARY CARTER

LISA CHERNOFF
 
JON WILLIAM LOPEZ

SARA LEE D'ALESSANDRO

RUDI KLIMPERT

DIANNA SHOMAKER

BUNNY BOWEN

ED GOODMAN

GARY SANCHEZ

MARILYN AND HERB DILLARD

GERALDINE BRUSSEL

SAMANTHA McCUE ECKERT

SHARON SCHWARTZMANN

JIM FISH

C.E. FRAPPIER

TONY PARANÁ-RODRIGUES

FERNANDO DELGADO

JB BRYAN

LORNA SMITH

KATRINA LASKO

BILL FREEMAN

JULIANNA KIRWIN

LENORE & LARRY GOODELL

RIHA ROTHBERG AND WAYNE MIKOSZ

KATHERINE SLUSHER

MEG LEONARD

BEN FORGEY

JADE LAYVA

CREATIVE SPIRITS OF PLACITAS

TOM ASHE


For more great local art, visit
Placitas Artists.com

Sandoval Signpost Featured Artist Gallery

Tom Ashe

Tom Ashe practicing his art overseas

Photograph, by Tom Ashe

Photograph, by Tom Ashe, from his Reflections series

Photograph, by Tom Ashe

Portrait of a young girl, photograph, by Tom Ashe

Developing eyes to see the world

—KEIKO OHNUMA

The twenty-something prodigy is an artistic cliché—the kid who lands a solo show downtown before she’s old enough to rent a car. Tom Ashe is the other kind of artist, the type we’re going to see a lot more of as baby-boomers reinvent the notion of middle-age.

A builder and land developer whose name has long been associated with a certain kind of success, Ashe has lately regained his twenty-something focus.

“I would be extremely happy to do photography full-time,” he says from his office which he built in the Ranchos de Placitas subdivision. The adobe looks out on the mesa from its many large windows, and looks in to Ashe’s true calling, from the color photographs lining the walls.

Like many late-blooming artists, he can outline the trajectory of his creative life only now, in retrospect. Photography was an early interest—he had a single-lens reflex camera when other teens were getting their Kodak Brownies—and he taught himself to develop and print film in a darkroom he built in the family attic.

In college, he had a position on the yearbook staff that gave him the run of a state-of-the-art darkroom, plus assignments that taught him to shoot with purpose. “It was the best thing,” he says of his years at Ohio Northern University. The darkroom led him to shooting rock shows, because he also played guitar. These occupations naturally continued when he moved to the University of New Mexico.

After college, practical concerns took over. He graduated from UNM with a degree in industrial arts and a plan to teach. When home construction proved to be a better avenue, Ashe embarked on a career that led him into land development, and life took its course. He raised a family, his business grew, and for more than two decades his camerawork was relegated to family snapshots and shooting promotional materials for his business.

One birthday, around his forty-eighth, his wife surprised him with an enlarger, based on an idle comment he’d made. “It got me all freaked out,” he laughs. “You don’t just get an enlarger,” he told her. “It’s all or nothing where darkrooms are concerned.”

He continues, “The next thing I know, I’m at a darkroom store.”

From that point forward, Tom Ashe’s second life begins—the one that has eclipsed his persona as a land developer. What he thinks about in that adobe office these days is light, reflections, a more abstract kind of framing, and the stories it tells. He notes that not long after he began shooting for pleasure again, “I started realizing that in order to do this and bring it to the next level, I needed to start fresh.”

So he started traveling, camera in hand, to places where he could see the world with new eyes: Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Croatia. His photographs from those trips include arresting portraits, especially of children, that gracefully bridge cultural difference in a way one rarely sees in the commercial media. “What got to me was the people,” Ashe explains. “And I guess I established the courage to put a camera a foot from someone’s face.”

Being a purist, he had long resisted the switch to digital—but now he found that digital cameras made possible a new kind of relationship with his subjects, who could see the results instantly. “You never had that with standard analog photography. Now it opens a door to richness and culture.”

A recent trip to Italy opened his perspective in an unexpected direction. “You never think you’ll find anything new,” he marvels. In the Tuscan town of Siena, Ashe started noticing the curved mirrors used to navigate out of narrow driveways. “I realized there are reflective surfaces everyplace, and started shooting them.” He found himself returning to certain mirrors and windows to see what the parallel world might reflect about the real one.

The results offer a glimpse into a meta-reality that remains as open-ended as his portraits. These photographs are easy to look at, yet continually invite the viewer’s engagement beyond the cursory glance.

It stands to reason that Ashe’s work tends toward humanitarian causes. In January, he showed forty photographs of Auschwitz at an exhibition in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. He also hopes to mount a tandem exhibition on the Cambodian genocide—subjects that bring the photographer’s history full circle.

Ashe recalls that his earliest inspiration was National Geographic, the color magazine that, along with Life and Look, offered Americans a window on the riotous world just coming onto the horizon through the possibilities of jet travel. “I thought how great it would be to become a National Geographic photographer and travel the world,” he dreamed.

Fast-forward forty years, when crossing the globe has become ordinary, and concerns about making a living are long past. Ashe has found his place behind a camera, not by traveling places and holding a lens up to the world, but by developing the eyes to see it.



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