Saints and Sinners is a new collection of poetry and photography from writer Melanie Lamb Faithful and photographer Sally Nelson Kruse, published by local imprint Western Edge Press. The title was inspired by the
Española bar of the same name and, in a nutshell, it's a bit of a mashup and a bit of a love letter to faith and feminism, but also New Mexico, primarily the northern parts; the word "esoteric" is emblazoned right on the front cover, aptly, but perhaps even challengingly.
Must we be from the area to reap the collection's benefits, or will the book serve as a sort of entry-level skeleton key to
understanding the region's ethereal hold on generations of artists from any and all media? It seems to ask the reader to at least try to understand the call. There is,
perhaps, a siren song emanating from the arroyos and sun-drenched hills, and to capture it succinctly might be impossible.
Legions of artists try, and Saints and Sinners certainly adds to the gamut and paints a picture, sometimes brilliantly, sometimes not.
Faithful hails from Appalachia, and writes in the book:
I was a child in the mountains
cousin to creeks
sister to snakes
brother to tumbling boulders
and grandchild to a
sharp tongued, coon hunting
biscuit loving baptist
Her entire childhood just flashed before our eyes; but Northern New Mexico, she says, has more in common with her homeland than you'd think. Like there, we're a land of mountains and small villages, of pickups and ancient bloodlines. Like there, one can be ensorcelled by the rise and fall and crawl of the light on land. She's lived in Santa Fe for years now.
"My husband is a native New Mexican and our kids live here, too," Faithful says. "He said, 'This is your place, you just don't know it yet.'"
Kruse, meanwhile, was born and raised in Las Vegas (our Las Vegas, not the flashy one) and, despite beginning her college career at New Mexico Highlands
University with an interest in arts, she wound up with a degree in business.
"My father took me aside and said, 'Y'know, you might also want to make a living,'" she recalls.
Her love for New Mexico's land and people was also sparked by her father.
"When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time with my dad delivering furniture—he was an upholsterer—camping, fishing in the mountains and the villages, and I just loved doing that," she says. "So when I retired, I said, 'I'm going to go to every
village in Northern New Mexico'—and you know, I think I have."
Previously, Kruse helped set up and taught at the Thoreau alternative high school on the Navajo Reservation, a job she held for 13 years. Photography, at least in any professional capacity, has only been on her front burner the last six years, she says. You'd never know it, though, and despite Kruse's insistence that the basics of design are a must-learn for any fledgling artist, a natural eye and understanding of composition—what Kruse calls "talent"—can most certainly not be taught. In Saints and Sinners, she proves such natural talent.
To be fair, some scenes feel tired, such as the rusty old pickup truck or the
run-down general store—maybe the word is mandatory? Others, however, like layers of clouds and mountains peeking through a small window, or a DIY shrine crafted with half a bathtub and a number of broken-down santos, feel both quintessentially New Mexico, but also like new eyes on well-worn subjects. Regardless, each photo deserves closer examination and, when taken in conjunction with Faithful's poetry, becomes its own microcosm applicable to our own lives, or at least recognizable.
Saints and Sinners is a back-and-forth collaboration: Some of Faithful's poems were inspired by Kruse's shots; some of the photos were taken in response to the words. It's a testament to both that one might think long and hard about which came first without being able to come to a conclusion one way or another. Titles to the poems and images are intentionally eschewed, Kruse says, to allow the viewer agency and some sense of self-driven narrative. This is delightful, and it's easy to see yourself in the words and pictures.
Think of the collection like a dream—you're not sure how you got there, and there's a gnawing familiarity to everything contained therein, even if you've never specifically set foot on that patch of land, even if you aren't the spawn of a biscuit-loving Baptist.
Melanie Lamb Faithful & Sally Nelson Kruse with Neil Shepard:
6 pm Thursday April 18. Free.
Collected Works Bookstore and Coffee House,
202 Galisteo St.,