Ed Grazda’s photos are a ‘last glance’ at the old Southwest

—Photo by Ed Grazda

Photographer Edward Grazda has preserved a bit of the old Southwest and early Native American history in his new book, “A Last Glance: Trading Posts of the Four Corners,” a photographic journal of the remains of what was once an important source of commerce and exchange of culture between settlers and Native Americans.

Through a series of around 100 photos taken mainly at out-of-the-way areas of New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah, Mr. Grazda has managed to recapture an all but extinct way of life. The series of stunning black and white photos feature the desolate flat landscape, striking skies, and scrubby vegetation that characterize the region. The focal point of each is, of course, the simple structure — in many cases in partial ruins if not almost completely reclaimed by nature. However, some of the trading posts are still active, and show signs of a rustic, nostalgic way of life. It’s easy to see the visual, as well as historical, appeal of the locations, and Mr. Grazda has managed to capture these desolate outposts with an artist’s eye and an obvious passion for his subject.

IMG_0001One can almost almost feel the blazing sun, taste the dust, and sense the loneliness of these hidden historical landmarks — most of which are remote and barely accessible to the casual visitor.

Mr. Grazda is best known for his documentation of the Middle East. From the 1980s through the early 2000s, he photographed in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has had two books of his work from those areas published: “Afghanistan Diary 1992-2000” and “Afghanistan 1980-1989,” as well as a book of photos of New York City mosques.

His work has appeared in the New Yorker, Vanity Fair, and Granta, and is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MOMA, and the New York Public Library, among others. He has received numerous grants and awards throughout his long career. He is co-founder of Errata Editions, a publishing company dedicated to making important rare photo books accessible.

Mr. Grazda first spent time in the Four Corners area in the 1970s, and he has included some of his early color Kodachrome shots in the book. A few of these photos include images of a cowboys lounging on the stoop of a low-slung building or gassing up at a desolate filling station, but aside from the model of the cars, the photos could easily be mistaken for the current ones, demonstrating how little has changed in this remote area.

One contemporary shot, showing the proprietor of a trading post leaning on an old-fashioned glass case with shelves of canned goods behind the counter, looks like it was taken on the set from an old Western. Some photos include outdated advertising signs, crumbling outdoor murals, old nonfunctioning gas pumps, and other signs of abandonment, while other exteriors display recent graffiti and other indications of vandalism. All in all, it’s a fascinating look at off-the-beaten-path America, and each image is a wonderful work of art.

The Four Corners refers to the area surrounding the point where Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico touch borders. It is the only location in the United States where four states meet, and is also a region which largely belongs to Native American nations, primarily the Navajo nation.

In the introduction to the book, Mr. Grazda explains the genesis of the trading post: “Starting around the 1870s, in an area that would come to be known as the Four Corners, there were places where Native Americans interacted with the Anglo world, their commodities and culture. They were called trading posts. The Native Americans bartered wool, rugs, baskets, and jewelry for coffee, cooking oil, flour, and manufactured goods … The buildings in these photographs are monuments to the traders whose lonely lives influenced Native American cultures in the 20th century.”

After first discovering this hidden world in the late 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Grazda returned for a second, longer look at the Navajo nation early in the 21st century. He was drawn back to the area for aesthetic as well as historical reasons. “What I like about the trading post is that it’s sort of vernacular architecture,” Mr. Grazda said. “Each one is unique, built by a local. I find it interesting to see what each individual made as a structure.”

Mr. Grazda, who was born in Queens, N.Y., studied at the Rhode Island School of Design, and now lives in Chilmark, found the landscape very appealing: “Everything is open and bright. You can see as far as 100 miles.”

What first drew Mr. Grazda to the Four Corners region was the work of post–Civil War photographer Timothy O’Sullivan. Mr. Grazda’s interest was more recently renewed by reading a series of books by Tony Hillerman. “He uses a Navajo policeman as a main character. He’s always referring to trading posts.”

1.107.useThe project proved a unique adventure for the photographer, as he spent a good deal of time driving through various reservations seeking out his chosen subject. “I knew that they were there, but I didn’t realize how many there were,” Mr. Grazda said.

He had to rely on a resources other than standard guidebooks, striking up conversations with locals to locate the remote and, in some cases barely visible, ruins.

In a postscript to the book, Mr. Grazda writes, “Every year a number of trading posts close. Each edition of the AAA Indian country map shows fewer posts.” The final two images are of two trading posts that burned to the ground in 2014. Thankfully, the photographer has managed to document this quickly disappearing iconic American institution.

On Feb. 26, Mr. Grazda will be showing some of the framed images from the book at an event at Pathways.

Mr. Grazda’s photographs have been featured in a number of exhibits at A Gallery in Oak Bluffs. This summer the gallery will host a show of his photos and his handmade scale models of buildings.

Leave a reply

Theme developed by TouchSize - Premium WordPress Themes and Websites