New Mexico is a land of erosion. Erosion of land through natural processes, erosion of culture through conquest, and erosion of history through omission.
Since moving to New Mexico, I have been fascinated with exploring and understanding its vast and monumental landscape. Buttes jut out of the desert floor, hundreds of feet into the air, with flat mesa tops full of trees and life. I assumed, as with most mountains, that the spires and jagged rocks of the desert had been pushed up from the earth, rising slowly over time. But the mesas are not rising from the desert floor, the desert floor is eroding around them. What I assumed to be solid, was in fact ever-shifting. Hiking down the side of a mesa, earth crumbles and rolls below my feet, leaving the mountain, becoming the desert floor.
The colonial history of New Mexico mirrors the rise and fall of its landscape. The southwest was not conquered in one war or one lifetime, but slowly, unevenly over many generations. The ebb and flow of the Spanish, then American conquests, the slow advance/fast retreat mirrors the creation of the land. Entire peoples were worn down gradually until all that was left were small groups whose broken history stands alone in the desert like the high mesas that had once been the ground itself.
This millennia-long push and pull was put to a dramatic end in the early hours of the morning on June 16th, 1945. The first atomic detonation, in the middle of the Journda de Muerto, at once reshaped and concretized that desolate area. In an instant, a geography and social order that had taken millennia to create, was erased. The power of the sun, the most dominate feature of the New Mexican landscape, was overcome by that most artificial of suns, the nuclear bomb. Change over time, the basic equation of erosion, became simply change.
With this solidifying of order came an erosion of the knowledge surrounding it. Omission, the silent absence of information, is the constant running through this rough history. Omissions wear away knowledge over time- complex realities become simple truths, victors become saviors, losers become terrorists, a three-dimensional world becomes two. History becomes deeper, more entrenched over time. Like a river carving its way through a canyon, it obstructs its beginnings as much as it shows us its current way.
Noah McLaurine is currently a contributing faculty member at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design. He received his MFA in Photo, Video, and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His current photographic work explores the concept of erosion in relation to landscape, culture, and information. He is a founding editor of Cousin Corinne’s Reminder, a photographic and literary journal based in Brooklyn, New York. He has taken part in exhibitions in Santa Fe, Seoul, and New York City.