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Harvey Caplin
Treasured Photography
of the Southwest

Many photographers begin their career taking pictures of babies or family portraits in local department stores and off-the-street studios. I’ve heard it called a kind of dues you must pay.

Not so for Harvey Caplin, who began as a photographer around 1940. Caplin was quoted as saying, "I don’t do weddings, babies or portraits." What he did do was gutsy photos of cowboys, historical images of Native Americans and breathtaking landscapes of the Southwest.

In 1984, when Caplin died, he left 55,000 negatives to his daughter. Determined to make them available to the public, she went from gallery to gallery in Albuquerque, New Mexico, searching for the proper place to house them. It was there she met Bill Katzemayer.

Katzemayer lived in Albuquerque before moving to Sedona in June of 2000. Always fond of art, Katzemayer co-owned a gallery in New Mexico with a friend. When they parted ways, he moved to Sedona and opened Southwest Images in Tlaquepaque ... the perfect home for Caplin’s photographs. He offers the photographs in either black and white or sepia, matted or in custom frames.

Katzemayer enthusiastically spoke of some personal and interesting things about Harvey Caplin.

Caplin lived with his family in Rochester, New York, in the early 40s. He attended the Rochester Institute of Technology and majored in photography. In 1942, he enlisted in the military and was sent to New Mexico as a damage photographer. However, taking photos of damaged planes was only a day job.

Caplin found the landscape and people of New Mexico fascinating. In his spare time or when on leave, Caplin began his vast library of photos of the Southwest.

Knowing this was the place he wanted to live, Caplin soon sent for his family. When his tenure in the Army was over he began his photographic career.

A cowboy wannabe, Caplin had no problem getting right in there and living the lifestyle to get the perfect shot. Many of his photos were taken on the Bell Ranch, a one-million acre ranch in Tucumcari, NM. Caplin actually worked on the ranch. He got right in there with the cowboys, often shooting from the back of a horse.

This is what makes his pictures so unique. There wasn’t any posing going on. These are authentic depictions of life on a working ranch. Using a 1940s version 4x5 camera, when "automatic" settings were unheard of, it couldn’t have been easy.

While cowboys were Caplin’s favorite topic, they by no means were his only. In the late 40s and 50s, he began shooting photos of Native Americans in the New Mexico area. Hired by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to capture and preserve the Indian way of life, Caplin shot photos of the Pueblo, Navajo and Azumi Indians. From Ceremonial Apache Dancers in Gallup to Maria Martinez the Samuel Delfonso potter in Window Rock, Caplin covered a wide variety of Native American lifestyles.

Caplin also excelled in landscape shots of the Four Corners Region — Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. His photos graced the cover of Life Magazine, Smithsonian and Look, to name a few. The Saturday Evening Post hired him for a landscape series of which River of Aspens was born.

In 1960, Caplin created the four photos that adorn Stetson hat boxes. Just recently, Stetson has replaced Caplin’s work with a kind of generic cowboy print. The soon-to-be collector’s photos of the originals adorn the wall at Southwest Images. Katzemayer has set them attractively in poster format, matted and framed.

Caplin was well-respected and well-known in the Southwest. His photos of the Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Canyon de Chelly, Arches and White Sands are beautiful depictions of a timeless landscape.

Many of his photos can be compared to the style of Ansel Adams. Caplin and Adams were friends and often borrowed each others techniques.

Caplin also shot many historical photos like the tearing down of the airport in Albuquerque and some early railroad pictures. A big fan of the Pan American Road Race Caplin, has several photos from that domain.

Caplin continued to shoot photos until his death in 1984. Along with his legacy of photos, he left behind complete catalogues of every one of his 55,000 shots. Concise guides as to how the prints should be reproduced, their titles, dates shot and other valuable information was recorded impeccably by Caplin.

Katzemayer spoke of the slight irregularities and flaws that might be seen in some of the prints. "When you’re dealing with a 55-year-old negative, from a photographer, shot on the back of a horse in dusty, dirty conditions, there’s bound to be a knick or two."

Caplin’s daughter Abbey doesn’t want to change any of it, and Katzemayer fully supports her decision. He believes the reproductions to be the "real thing," true depictions of life in the Southwest.

Southwest Images is in Tlaquepaque Village, Suite A205 in Sedona. Katzemayer ships anywhere and everywhere. Stop by, or give him a call at 520-204-9512 for more information or a catalogue of Caplin’s work.

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