Don Usner, shifting perceptions through photography
By Carlos Trujillo
When I came across the work of Don Usner I was refreshed with the new direction his photography portrayed the people of the Espanola Valley. In much of his early work, Usner’s emphasis was on the village of Chimayo on the eastern edge of the valley. To Usner, these projects were personal because they were inspired by family ties to the region from his mother’s side of the family. He grew up visiting the valley from neighboring Los Alamos as a child, incorporating the Hispanic culture of the valley in much of his personal life. This was rare, especially for a child growing up in Los Alamos. As a professional, Usner returned to Chimayo to photograph the elders of the region, document their dichos, as well as the cultural evolution the region has undertaken over the last 20 years. Today Usner’s work is one of the best cultural records of the region and lives on to influence younger generations of the history of norteno culture.
I enjoy looking at Usner’s work because it showcases how beautiful northern New Mexico can be photographed, as well as how uplifting our stories can be told. His work challenges me to be different in the approach to my own projects. I believe we have the same aspirations with our photography, however, we approach our projects from different cultural perspectives. Viewing his work is a great way to see what I take for granted as a lifelong resident of the valley and serves as a reminder to photograph the region with ‘fresh eyes’. Don Usner has built a career as a decorated northern New Mexican photographer who has showcased his work in various exhibitions across the southwest, authoring several books that live on as a testimony to the historic and cultural significance of his work. His professionalism is what I strive to become as a photographer. It is my hope that through my time learning documentary photography in this class will strengthen these skills and refine the craft to make my photography a stronger storytelling medium.