In 2005 I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. These are are my stories.
South Africa is the queen mother of all brothels.
When you talk to a man with soft hands who claims to have killed an elephant, you have to wonder what reason a man with soft hands has for doing such a thing. Unlike Heart Disease and Type 2 Diabetes, elephants are not high on the 1st world list of threats to humanity.
My job was to portray the gentlemanly sport of big game hunting as genteel and aristocratic, which is not at all what it really is. What it is, is paying for flattery. I mean how else does a man with soft hands end up with an elephant head on his wall?
My employer wanted me to make him look important and distinguished. He wanted to make sure the world knew of his international exploits, so long as they met the first two criteria. My photographs of him have been published in prestigious hunting magazines that are read by tricks everywhere. I guess that makes me famous.
I did my job perfectly. He knew I would and this is why I got the gig, but I wasn’t happy.
My employer, who usually looked to me for council, had become deaf in both ears and was making an international ass of himself. An adolescent boy with a rifle; spending big money to kill big animals, running his mouth like a fool and fondling his mistress who was a carbon copy of his wife. I would have let all this slide, had he been nice to me, but seeing as how that was evidently not part of the plan I decided to show him what big game hunting looked like to me.
I shot his photos, the ones he wanted, and then I shot my photos, the ones I wanted him to see. For every one magazine ready portrait, I shot hundreds of gruesome images: tongues lolling from bleeding mouths, heads with lifeless eyes hanging from the back of flat bed trailers, pools of blood in the sand, ripped skin.
The Ojito Wilderness
The Ojito Wilderness in New Mexico is an 11,000 acre site located north of Bernalillo, around the vicinity of San Ysidro. It is a BLM owned public open space full of desert jewels such as petrified wood, rare plant species, dry river beds, ancient petroglyphs, hoodoos and a generally alien landscape.
Some things to be aware of when visiting Ojito is that it is closed to motorized vehicles. I don't recall there being any proper parking lots and it is in no way ADA accessible. There are no bathrooms, water fountains, tour guides or snack bars. What there is is wind and lots of it. If you come here, be prepared to pack in anything you might need and carry it all out too. The desert doesn't want baby wipes and beer bottles so, as always, leave only footprints and take only photographs.
No one remembers the Trading Post
I guess that's why it closed, you know, because no one knew it was there. I found plenty of sites with information about the Ojito Wilderness but I couldn't find even one mention of this abandoned trading post that once sat out in the middle of it all.
These photos were recovered from my (previously missing) archives. They were shot in 2006. I know the trading post was still there for at least another five or six years but I heard a rumor that it had since fallen down - either by itself or with the help of bulldozers. With that in mind, these are likely the last photos of this forgotten place.
The dragonfly pictured below was stuck to the window in the above photo. I do recall that on a subsequent trip, the window in question had been broken thus marking this image as a one of a kind moment in time. And for the record, the dragonfly was already dead when I found it, I did not harm the dragonfly for the sake of staging a weird photo (because I would never do that!).
The Last Page
The photo above is one of my all-time favorite images. In fact, there is a large framed print of it hanging front and center in my living room so the three people that come to my house can say, "Wow, that's a great photo!"
Believe it or not, I didn't stage this photo. In the back room of the trading post was an over turned stove. Sitting on the stove was a copy of The Red Badge Of Courage that was well past it's prime. As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it is always windy in the Ojito Wilderness. So all I did was turn the book slightly so that the draft coming in through the broken window and exiting the missing door would blow the book open. Then I set myself up across the room with a telephoto lens and a slow shutter speed and waited for the wind to make the book do just the right thing, which it did... eventually. Good things come to patient photographers.
To see my posts about other Abandoned Places, click here.
Directions To The Ojito Wilderness
To reach the Ojito Wilderness, start in Bernalillo and travel north on U.S. 550 for about 21 miles. Then turn left (west) on Cabezon Road (County Road 906). After approx. 9 & 1/4 miles there should be a sign for the Ojito Wilderness. Continue for another 3/4 mile and start looking for some kind of parking area. There should be two trail heads here; the Seismosaurus Trailhead and the Hoodoo Trailhead. I honestly have no idea which of these trails might lead to where the trading post is (or was). What I remember doing was driving until a sandy dry river bed forced us to park the vehicle for fear of getting stuck and then walking across the river bed to the trading post. That being said, even if the trading post is no longer standing, there is still plenty of cool stuff to see and I think a hiker wouldn't be disappointed with either trail.
In October of 2005, I was commissioned to photograph a big game hunt in South Africa. These are my stories.
The dark hills of South Africa are filled with baboons. They hide in trees, scanning the landscape with human eyes, barking monkey messages to their monkey brethren and smiling broadly so the sun glints off their razor sharp lion teeth. To hunt a baboon is both murderous and futile. While a human predator camps out in the bush, waiting for an unsuspecting beast to wander in front of his gun, baboons are stripping his truck and using the parts to build a spaceship.
Troops of baboons crowd the shoulders of the highway; waiting for food scraps and making obscene hand gestures at the VW Buses rattling non-stop up and down the wrong side of the road. You never, ever see a dead baboon in the road. They don’t get hit by cars. The same cannot be said of dogs or boa constrictors but baboons understand traffic laws. A baboon always knows who has the right of way.
While it is not uncommon to see unemployable men camped in front of the general store; cooking fowl meat with a butane lighter and pissing in a Coke bottle, this is not a fate that would befall a baboon. They don’t smoke dope, grow delirious from malaria, or live in shanty towns. A baboon does not call plywood and a tarp with a house number a house, nor is it a master of exploitation. A baboon knows it’s place in the scheme of things.
A successful predator in any environment, this intelligent, albeit ugly, lion-monkey is a marvel of nature. If I were you, I wouldn’t antagonize the baboons. They know where you live.
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I am DeAnna Vincent, fine art and portrait photographer in Los Lunas, New Mexico. These are the photos from my everyday adventures.