Sandoval Signpost
An independent monthly newspaper serving the community since 1988
  Featured Artist

Fine art photographer Michael Edminster
Photo credit: —Oli Robbins

Homeward Bound, photograph, by Michael Edminster

Garrapata Beach, photograph, by Michael Edminster

Signpost featured artist
Gaining perspective: the photographs of Michael Edminster

~Oli Robbins

Not everyone experiences visual sublimity upon exiting the front door. But in these parts, it’s not uncommon to witness an awe-inspiring view around each corner. Our skies, our vistas—they’re what have beckoned artists to New Mexico for the past two-hundred-plus years.

Placitas photographer Michael Edminster captures that grandeur and was recently recognized for it. Just last month, New Mexico Magazine awarded Michael the grand prize in their 16th Annual New Mexico Magazine Photo Contest. His winning photograph, Fall Storm in the Sandia Mountains, depicts the Sandias in all their radiant glory, haloed by raging, rounded, and rain-filled clouds. [See cover photograph, this Signpost.] The contest attracted over 1,500 entries, which, as the magazine puts it, “adds luster to the accomplishment of winning.”

Writes New Mexico Magazine, “several participants echoed Edminster’s sensitivity to our local atmospheres, the skies in particular, and the modus operandi of seeking and always being prepared to take advantage of extraordinary conditions and opportunities.” Michael's esteemed image, which was taken outside of his own home, wasn’t one of his favorites at the time of entry. He often prefers shots that demand substantial struggle and fearlessness, but viewing friends consistently responded strongly to Fall Storm, so he ran with their reactions and submitted it.

Michael and his wife, Georgia, have been living in Placitas for only two-and-a-half years. They relocated from Santa Cruz, where they were settled for twenty years, following time in Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Says Michael of his current home, “the location was just unbelievable."

Indeed it is—just look at his now-famed front-yard scenery! “We’d first heard about Taos or Santa Fe,” says Michael, “So we came out here to see those places. And I don’t know; we just immediately fell in love with NM. It was love at first sight... I think it was a combination of the culture, the environment, and the art.”

They’d wanted to move out here since that initial trip almost a decade ago, but put it off until 2014, in the meantime renting a different Placitas home and visiting twice yearly. Currently, photography is Michael’s only vocation, but for decades he enjoyed a career as an Agronomist (plant doctor), specializing in avocado, citrus, tropical, and flower crops in the Salinas Valley down to Santa Barbara.

Photography has enticed Michael since his pre-teen years. Growing up in the Bay Area, he exposed himself to the masterful art housed in the San Francisco MoMA and nearby galleries. He was immediately drawn to the black-and-white landscape photography of Ansel Adams and later began to see the genius embedded in the imagery of Edward Weston and Paul Strand. Says Michael, “The light and the look that those guys were able to do with their technical abilities… the art that came out of that period was just amazing. They were game changers.”

Michael embraced photography after finding that he couldn’t paint, lightheartedly explaining that he “tried to make up for that fact.”

Michael’s subject matter runs the gamut from landscape to people to infrared and wildlife. He’s presently interested in night photography, experimenting with LED lights to illuminate the foreground, and also invested in photographically memorializing people. He tends to approach potential subjects and ask for their blessing to be photographed, a method that generates entirely disparate results based upon his location. “I spent a lot of time in Mexico, and the US is different. Only during a festivity would people let down, like at Day of the Dead. In Mexico, they lend themselves to being more open. They will release control of themselves.”

Michael isn't scared to, quite literally, go out on a limb to achieve the perfect shot. He’s studied with extreme nature photographer Galen Rowell, who encouraged him to find vantage points that others won’t. One day, Michael was determined to shoot Big Sur from a fresh angle and reveal another side of the oft-photographed lookout. Michael recalls, “I destroyed my camera that day right after I took that picture. I decided to climb down the cliffs, and this is shot after I climbed down. I almost killed myself. But I got the picture I wanted. If you lose a camera but get that kind of shot, then it’s worth it… If you can’t get to a perspective that people haven’t seen, you can’t draw them in. It could still be a beautiful picture, but won’t pull them in.”

Asked how he sets himself apart in our current age of photographic ubiquity, Michael assured me that making a good image today is the same as it ever was. “It’s visualizing something. Truth. Art is about truth. It really is. Strand, Adams, Westin, Cunningham—their images are all showing you something through their eyes that they felt was beautiful, truthful, or impactful in some way.” So while Michael uses Photoshop to work with saturation and enhancements, he’s committed to remaining faithful to the actual moment. “Photography,” says Michael, “is a search for one’s vision of truth and the joy that comes from sharing that vision with others.”

Michael can be reached via email at His work will be on display at the Annual New Mexico Photographic Art Show at the Fine Arts Pavilion at the NM State Fairgrounds, running from April 2 to April 23 with an opening reception on April 1, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m.

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