Debbie had just returned from Mexico, where she visited with CeeJay Burnett, an incredibly gifted artist and musician himself, who occasionally works for Ron Cooper. She was especially enamored of Mexico City, and we were talking about that, when Lenny Foster wandered over to the cafe with another man who carried a large, framed photograph.
It was an old friend. Todd Christensen is a great artist; a painter who has spent more than a decade also working in the Film Industry as a Location Manager. He is based in Santa Fe but lived up here during the Hopper Heyday and had a son, (Joshua Concha) with Rhoda Concha Hopper’s sister, Wanda.
He and Debbie are also friends so Todd sat with us and we talked a bit. About Mexico and Bob Watkins passing and here we are.
Here we are. So very many are not. In Taos, as in the rest of the world, we have lost so many this year. Too many of our loved ones are now dearly departed. Others have had struggles unlike ever before. And we are still taking in all the rest that has recently occurred. All who have departed, all that has transpired and where we stand now. The ground is shaky, and yet here we still are.
But Lenny is leaving. After twenty-three years in Taos, Lenny is descending the mountain and headed to the beaches of St. Augustine, to be close to loved ones and family. His parents are still alive and live there, and his partner and son are already settled in their new home. Lenny’s just here for now, tying up loose ends.
I’ve talked to him a few times about dong this post. We were going to do an interview and get serious about it but somehow it felt looser than that, or perhaps, I just can’t picture Taos without Lenny, so I avoided doing it. He did tell me he felt drawn to the ocean at this point in his life, that it was an opportunity to be with his folks and he treasured being able to have that now too.
He also expressed his love for Taos and how good it has been for and to him but it was simply time. Time to move on.
A few years back, after I’d interviewed him for Taos Magazine, Lenny called me and asked me to write an introduction to a book he was getting ready to put out. I really wanted to, and for a minute thought I could, but I was writing pieces for another book by yet another artist, and my focus was such that I didn’t feel I could do both equal justice, so after much procrastination and deliberation, I turned him down.
I’ve long struggled with that decision. Lenny is an amazing photographer. In a way his work reminds me a little of Mapplethorpe’s, especially his still life photography and the flowers. The light is the same. And Lenny truly is a ray of light who will be sorely missed here, where he has long turned his lens on the majesty of the Mountain and the valley. The people, the place and its creatures. He captured it all beautifully, with so much heart.
I ran into him last week at Cid’s. We talked about the post and photographs for it.
I got home later and Lenny had sent me a self portrait. There was water and the light was perfect.
A day or two earlier, he’d sent the image of the bench. Clearly the ocean had his attention. The High Desert was no longer holding his Muse captive.
Now Todd had appeared and Debbie left to go back to her studio and Todd and I kept talking. I needed to leave and so did he, so we crossed the street together – he had more to retrieve at Lenny’s Living Light Gallery, and I went with him.
Todd told me how he and Lenny had become friends over the years and that he would miss him.
Lenny didn’t look in the least bit surprised that Todd and I knew one another, and just carried on doing what he’s doing, tying up those loose ends.
I was almost afraid to go into the large back room that had been hung with his photographs of hands. All the hands, the photographs of hands Lenny has taken over the years. The African hands and the Christian, Jewish and Muslim hands. The Buddhist and Hindu and Native American hands. Helping hands. Hands we need now.
Foster had once told me “you know it’s about the angels among us, those moments we all have in our lives, where someone appears at the right moment and then they leave and we have that sense of the angelic; of another kind of helping hand.”
We talk about the deeper reality of this; Lenny is making moves, he’s taking chances, dreaming big and new. Trying something different on the cusp of 60, after more than two decades here in the High Desert. He hopes he’ll inspire folks his age, who think there’s nothing more to do.
“I don’t care about the past,” he said, “I’m thinking about tomorrow.” And I could tell he is already there, where the sand meets the sea and the sky is reflected in the water.
He smiled. “It’s gonna be hard to leave this place.”
And leaving he truly is, in every sense of the word. He’s clearing out. Not a trace of Lenny will be left, The walls will be emptied, all the furnishings that remain, sold or given away and Lenny will be on the road.
“I’m taking the Southern Route,” he told me and Todd.
“Goin’ through Dallas, got some peeps there, and then two days in New Orleans.”
We were jealous and the conversation turned to food.
“It’s moving out,” he gestured around the rooms, “a few lucky people got some stuff.”
He looked at the walls, not so slowly but surely emptying of work, and smiled.
“I’m here ’till around the 13th,” he noted, “I’m hoping it’s all gone by then and it’s just the turtles left.”
He indicated the tank against a bare wall with two tiny turtles swimming around in it.
“They’re going with me,” he said. “They’re my co-pilots.”
Living Light Gallery will be open with Lenny Foster’s work for sale until around January the 9th and 10th. It’s a good time to add to (or start), your collection of his exquisite photography.
Portrait of Lenny by Paul O’Connor
The bench and Lenny by the sea both by Lenny Foster