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Modernist Institutions, Modern Infrastructures, and the Making of the US-Mexico Borderlands

In 1927, Ansel Adams, Albert Bender, and Bertha Damon drove through the US-Mexico borderlands. While Bender was already a prominent patron of the arts, and while Damon was already an established environmental writer, Adams was at a creative crossroads. For most of his life, he had trained as a classical pianist, but recently, he had started to see himself as a professional photographer. On visits to Yosemite National Park, he had begun experimenting with “straight photography”—the sharply focused, richly detailed style for which he would become famous. Thanks to Bender’s patronage, he had just printed his first portfolio. Now, in Bender’s Buick, he was speeding toward Santa Fe—and a meeting with Mary Austin.[1]

Although she was not a canonical, capital “M” Modernist, Austin had contributed to several strands of “weak modernism.”[2] Before Adams was even born, she had drafted The Land of Little Rain (1903), an essay collection on the inhospitable environments east of the Sierra Nevada. When Adams was still a child, she had written The Arrow Maker (1911), a play based on Paiute traditions, and The Ford (1917), a novel about the California water wars. Finally, as Adams was reaching adulthood, she had published The American Rhythm (1923), a study of Native poetics. Over the course of her career, Austin had participated in the modernist coteries of London and New York, but since 1925, she had held court at her Casa Querida in Santa Fe. As a cofounder of the Spanish Colonial Arts Society, a leader of the Indian Arts Fund, and a benefactress of the Santa Fe Little Theater, she was the perfect person to launch Adams into the art world. Fortunately, she took a liking to the young photographer, and over a plate of homemade donuts, she started thinking of essays that could contextualize—and, with any luck, commercialize—his work.[3]

For the next three years, Adams and Austin collaborated on a book called Taos Pueblo (1930). Along the way, they engaged with “modernist institutions”—a term I use for the social sites in which modernists made their media.[4] In many contexts, modernist institutions relied on public resources, but in the borderlands, they operated out of private homes. From Los Gallos, Mabel Dodge sponsored performances (especially the Fiesta de Santa Fe), organized exhibitions (particularly the Museum of New Mexico’s shows), and planned political campaigns (including, most famously, the effort to defeat the US Senate’s Bursum Bill) (figs. 1 and 2).[5] On Camino Monte Sol, Alice Corbin Henderson edited poetry anthologies (such as The Turquoise Trail, from 1928) and contributed to little magazines (such as Laughing Horse).[6] Finally, at El Delirio, Elizabeth and Martha White made a “women’s sphere,” a space for exploring alternative creativities and sexualities.[7] In their modernist institutions, these women hosted the likes of Witter Bynner, Willa Cather, Andrew Dasburg, Martha Graham, Marsden Hartley, D. H. Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, Paul Strand, Rebecca Strand, Jean Toomer, and Edward Weston. However, they gave their guests more than just room and board; in Dodge’s grandiloquent terms, they made it possible to escape “the competitive life of civilization,” “become one with their surroundings,” and “live outside of Time.”[8]

Los Gallos
Fig. 1. In the 1920s and 1930s, Los Gallos was an important modernist institution. From Box 78, Folder 2171, MDLP. Reproduced with permission from the Ernest Knee Photographic Trust.  
Rooms in Los Gallos
Fig. 2. In its many rooms, Los Gallos could accommodate dozens of writers, artists, and culture-makers. From Box 78, Folder 2163, MDLP.

Adams, Austin, and their counterparts came from disparate contexts. But since they worked in Los Gallos and La Casa Querida (the two modernist institutions that form the focus of this essay), they developed similar strategies for depicting and dwelling in the borderlands. Like many twentieth-century culture-makers, they used projections of “primitive” peoples to alleviate anxieties about “civilization.”[9] Unlike most of their contemporaries, they embedded these projections in specific sites of settler colonialism. According to María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, the United States’ and Mexico’s “encounters with Indigeneity” have shaped the ways in which they “perceive the natural landscape.” [10] For this reason, New Mexico modernists could not redefine human cultures without also redefining nonhuman environments. As they appropriated Native and Nuevomexicana/o traditions, they started associating deserts with authenticity and spirituality. And as they treated racialized communities as precapitalist utopias, they began thinking that deserts had essential and enduring values. With the media that they made in their institutions, these modernists relied on and reaffirmed a “racial geography,” which Saldaña-Portillo defines as a way “of envisioning, of mapping, of accounting for and representing space as Indian given” (Indian Given, 17). Sometimes, this racial geography seemed superficially aesthetic; in Hartley’s paintings, it manifested itself as little more than abstract form and vibrant color. Other times, it seemed deeply spiritual; in Lawrence’s essays, it “liberated [people from] civilisation” and “changed [their lives] forever.”[11] At all times, it enforced inarticulable yet all-important expectations about human identity in/on the more-than-human world.

How did New Mexico modernists reimagine and reshape the borderlands? For a long time, scholars saw Los Gallos and La Casa Querida as utopias that were separate from and superior to the rest of society.[12] But in the last twenty years, scholars have resituated these modernist institutions amidst the regional tourist industry. By analyzing the all-encompassing “Myth of Santa Fe,” scholars have shown how Los Gallos and La Casa Querida masked longstanding socioeconomic inequalities.[13] However, they have not recognized that these modernist institutions also concealed the proliferating phenomena that I refer to collectively as “modern infrastructures.” In this period, settlers consolidated their control of the borderlands—they invented new racial frameworks, imposed the English language, and made New Mexico and Arizona into the last of the lower forty-eight states.[14] With help from the Homestead Act, the Desert Lands Act, and many extralegal practices, they seized almost all of the fertile lands.[15] Then, under the authority of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Corps of Engineers, and state agencies, they redesigned most of the region’s watersheds.[16] For many Euro Americans, these modern infrastructures were profitable. But for most Natives and Nuevomexicana/os—and for almost all plants and animals—they were devastating. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, New Mexico modernists sought sustainable solutions to capitalist dispossession and ecological degradation. But with their racial geography, they made it harder to respond to—or even recognize—socio-ecological struggles. By embellishing the myth of tricultural harmony, they covered up conflicts over Native and Nuevomexicana/o lands. And by depicting deserts as unchanging or unchangeable, they helped hide the world’s most extensive (and indeed, most destructive) network of aqueducts, dams, and reservoirs.

This essay explores the relationships between modernist institutions, modern infrastructures, and racialization. While it invokes many modernist media, it focuses on Taos Pueblo. Throughout their careers, Adams and Austin advocated for environmental awareness.[17] But when they worked at Los Gallos and La Casa Querida, they entrenched environmental unconsciousness—an aesthetic, conceptual, and ethical framework that obscured the transformation of the borderlands. To read environmental unconsciousness, this essay uses the methods that Robert Higney discusses in “Institutional Picaresque”: like Jeremy Braddock’s Collecting as Modernist Practice or Harris Feinsod’s The Poetry of the Americas, it analyzes the institutions that make literature, art, and culture.[18] At the same time, this essay adopts the approach that John Durham Peters calls “Infrastructuralism”: like Nicole Starosielski’s The Undersea Network or Tung-Hui Hu’s A Prehistory of the Cloud, it reveals the imaginary and material actors that “stand under our worlds.”[19] By working at the intersections of modernist studies, media studies, critical race studies, and the environmental humanities, this essay shows how radical forms of aesthetic pleasure disguised—and thereby deepened—a racialized regime of “environmentality.”[20] Ultimately, it argues that modernist institutions were entangled with modern infrastructures: while dams and aqueducts gave writers and artists the resources that they needed to work, texts and images made it possible for publics to ignore environmental problems.

Making Taos Pueblo

The story of Taos Pueblo (the book) does not begin in Taos Pueblo (the place); it begins with a conflict among modernist and mass cultural institutions. In 1928, Adams and Austin decided to work with Acoma Pueblo, but that summer, they struggled to navigate a crowded “cultural field.”[21] First, they heard a rumor that Robert Flaherty (the writer-director behind Nanook of the North) was “buy[ing] up all [of Acoma Pueblo’s] camera rights.”[22] Later, they learned that “The Famous Players” (predecessors to Paramount Pictures) were “connect[ing] the idea of large payments with photographs in the minds of the Acomas.”[23] To Adams and Austin, these “moving picture people” posed practical problems —they “gummed up” the streets, cut off the sightlines, and so on.[24] Even worse, they epitomized the mass media. That fall, therefore, the modernists distinguished their project. Whereas Flaherty “seem[ed] to know very little about Indians,” Austin claimed to have the highest standards of “workmanship.”[25] And whereas the Famous Players were shooting a single “Hollywood Indian Play,” Adams became “eager to see similar books on several Pueblos – Zuni – Acoma – Hopi – etc.”[26]

Through their distinctions, Austin and Adams strengthened modernist institutions and, in the process, reinforced modernist ways of relating to and residing in the borderlands. Like the “salvage ethnographers” who were using new media to save “Vanishing Indians,” Austin and Adams tried to transform dynamic communities into a static set.[27] In contrast to their counterparts, they believed that their books were “bound to increase in value . . . as changes [took] place in the Pueblos.”[28] By using the word “value,” Austin and Adams seized the economic and cultural capital that was swirling around modernist institutions. Of course, they recognized that they were creating commodities; indeed, when they started selling Taos Pueblo, they tried “not to sell out” so that they could “wait until the series [was] further along, and then raise the price.”[29] More importantly, they felt like they were making Modernist Art; in their correspondence, they maintained that their “taste” was “superior” and that their “set” had “unique value and beauty.”[30] With these two forms of “value,” Austin and Adams broke the bonds between Native realities and settler representations. Rather than documenting a people and a place, they designed a book. And rather than partnering with a public museum, they sold to private art collectors. In a consummate modernist move, they “Made It New”: as they experimented with new aesthetic forms, and as they exploited a new class of collectors, they shaped a new racial geography.

To take his photographs, Adams visited the region’s most important modernist institution: Mabel Dodge and Tony Lujan’s Los Gallos. From Dodge, Adams received a place to live; through Lujan, who was a Taos Indian, he got permission to work in Taos Pueblo. In 1929, Adams took his photographs. That fall, Austin wrote her essay. Finally, that winter, the Grabhorn Press designed the book. Throughout the publication process, Adams “worked like a steam-engine,” but in the end, his efforts paid off. [31] With Taos Pueblo, Adams announced his arrival as a professional photographer: in 1930, he shared the first prints with Paul Strand; in 1932, he showed the finished book to Alfred Stieglitz; and on the basis of his burgeoning network, he co-founded Group f/64 and co-authored a manifesto for straight photography. In these and other respects, Adams relied on and reaffirmed modernist institutions.[32] However, he also drew on and contributed to modern infrastructures. By analyzing Taos Pueblo’s ways of engaging with—or, to put it more precisely, not engaging with—these infrastructures, we can rewrite a chapter in the literary and artistic history of the borderlands.

Taos Pueblo’s Environmental Unconsciousness

Take a look at Taos Pueblo (figs. 3 and 4). Admire the leather binding, the cloth cover, and the embossed title. Appreciate the beautiful typography and the custom-made paper. Finally, read the first few lines: “Dedicated to our friends at Taos Pueblo to whose interested & intelligent cooperation is owed the historic and human authenticity of this book.”[33] With each of these elements, Austin and Adams paid their respects to a human community and its nonhuman environment. In the process, they pushed back against the prevailing forms of primitivism. Whereas Cather set her novels in Panther Canyon, the Cliff City, and other imaginary spaces, Austin tried to write an “authentic” account of a particular place. In turn, whereas Edward Curtis forced his Native subjects into artificial poses and anachronistic costumes, Adams attempted to “cooperate” with his Pueblo “friends.”[34] To some extent, Austin and Adams lived up to their lofty ideals.[35] But for the most part, they failed to recognize that Taos Indians were still resisting settler colonialism and that Taos Pueblo was still confronting modern environmentality. Because they lived and worked in modernist institutions, they could not see the world-making power of the modern state.

The cover of Taos Pueblo
Fig. 3. The cover of Taos Pueblo. Reproduced with permission of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. 
The title page of Taos Pueblo
Fig. 4. The title page of Taos Pueblo. Reproduced with permission of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.
Tony Lujan was an “Indian in Unexpected Places.”
Fig. 5. Tony Lujan was an “Indian in Unexpected Places.” From Box 67, Folder 1823, MDLP.

To understand how Taos Pueblo (the place) differed from Taos Pueblo (the book), consider the following photographs of Tony Lujan. The first is an unsigned, untitled, and undated snapshot of a hunting expedition. The second is Ansel Adams’s “A Man of Taos” (figs. 5 and 6).

Ansel Adams, “A Man of Taos.”
Fig. 6. Ansel Adams, “A Man of Taos.” Reproduced with permission of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust. 
Ansel Adams, “Ruins of Old Church (Destroyed 1847).”
Fig. 7. Ansel Adams, “Ruins of Old Church (Destroyed 1847).” Reproduced with permission of the Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

In the snapshot, Lujan blurred the boundaries between the primitive and the modern: beneath a traditional cloak, he wore a shirt and tie, and to display a dead deer, he used the hood of a car. In Philip Deloria’s terms, he was an “Indian in unexpected places”: by combining elements of Native and settler societies, he demonstrated that “the world we inhabit is the shared creation of all peoples.”[36] While it is unlikely, it is possible that Austin or Adams took this snapshot: after all, both figures had “unexpected” experiences in Lujan’s car. As Austin noted in her autobiography, Lujan was an “exceptionally good driver.”[37] Whereas the “average American” was merely “the master of [a] car’s mechanisms,” Lujan turned cars into “extension[s] of his personality” (Austin, Earth Horizon, 355). By singing the “accentless melodies of his people” atop the “unaccented rhythms of [his] machine,” he “sail[ed] on a magic carpet along the floor of space.” On one of these “magic” rides, Lujan landed in San Francisco (355). As Adams recalled, he started “singing and loudly beating his resonant drum. In no time at all neighbors and children living blocks away were drawn by the insistent throb and the guttural chants (Adams and Alinder, Autobiography, 92). For a few “extraordinary” moments, Lujan created an “incongruous happening in a conventional setting.” But then he stepped into Adams’s studio—and into New Mexico modernism’s racial geography.

In the portrait, Lujan became a capital-M “Man” who stood in for all of “Taos.” Shrouded in a dark robe and standing against a dark background, he remediated the primitivist fantasies at the heart of Lawrence’s “Taos” (1923) (in which Taos Indians wrapped “themselves in their sheets like shrouds”) and Cather’s Death Comes for the Archbishop (1927) (in which a Lujan-like character wore “a blanket of the finest wool and design”).[38] As the light fell across his angular nose and deeply-lined cheeks, Lujan allowed Adams to practice his photographic technique; indeed, as Brian Hochman argues, many Natives drove changes in media technology.[39] But while he had a measure of control over Adams’s photographs, Lujan had less influence on Austin’s essay.[40] According to Austin, Taos Indians maintained their “tribal integrity” (4). Positively, this meant that they were “proud” and “rebellious,” but pejoratively, it meant that they “share[d] Mongolian affiliations with all the [of the supposed] Amerind race” (4). By this racist logic, Taos Indians had inherent (read: inferior) characteristics: their faces had “the enigmatic fixity of Chinese dolls,” their language had “Chinese tonalities,” and their hairstyle was “as ancient as Thibet” (4). Within Los Gallos, La Casa Querida, and other modernist institutions, Taos Indians were not active subjects with whom one might form real relationships; instead, they were passive objects onto which one could project primitivist fantasies.

If “A Man of Taos” redefined identity, then “Ruins of Old Church (Destroyed 1847)” reimagined history (fig. 7). With its title the photograph evoked—but refused to explain—the “double colonization” of the borderlands.[41] Of course, almost all viewers can guess that Spanish missionaries built the “church” in question. However, almost none can tell how or why US soldiers “destroyed” it in “1847.” That year, Natives and Nuevomexicanas/os rebelled against the United States. In January, they broke up Anglo-owned businesses, defeated US militia units, and killed the territorial governor. But in February, they retreated toward Taos. On the third, with the regular army in pursuit, the rebels barricaded themselves in the church. After a few hours of fighting, the refuge became a tomb; artillery blasted a hole in the adobe walls, sappers set fire to the wooden roof, and soldiers scattered grapeshot into the tightly packed rebel forces. By the end of the fourth, the building was in ruins, and two hundred men, women, and children lay dead.[42]

With the words “Ruins of Old Church (Destroyed in 1847),” Adams summoned the specters of Spanish missionaries, US soldiers, and Native rebels. But through his artistic techniques—his razor-sharp focus, his wide tonal range, and his complex composition—he submitted these specters to a modernist exorcism. The photograph is stunning: a picturesque ruin rises against massive mountains, a rock-strewn road runs by a ramshackle cemetery, and vaguely, in the distance, a tall tree stands over a prosperous house. Like much of Adams’s work, it is a study in light: the sunny church and the even sunnier house contrast with the dark mountains, and the white crosses emerge from the obscure shadows. To top off, the clouds are rendered so precisely that they start to seem surreal; like the snow falling on Cather’s Cliff City, they make it clear that reality has been refracted through a modernist lens. In each of these respects, the photograph is less about colonialism than it is about creativity; “Give me any ‘old church,’” it seems to say, “and I’ll give you a modernist masterpiece.” For Adams, therefore, Taos Pueblo might as well have been Half Dome, El Capitan, or some other rock formation; in every case, he would have fixated on form, light, and other aesthetic qualities.

While Adams reimagined particular points in time, Austin redefined time itself. Along with other settlers in the territory claimed by the United States, Austin established and maintained “temporal sovereignty,” which Mark Rifkin defines as a culturally conditioned “way of narrating, conceptualizing, and experiencing temporality.”[43] Consider the following passage:

It is the fact of Taos rather than its history which intrigues public interest. The fact of its persistence, sturdily unimpaired of its essential primitiveness, its vital pagan quality, gathering to itself the nostalgia of house-bred, book-fed peoples; this is the charm of Taos, its excuse and justification. There it stands like a tree, like the fabled tree of its Creation legend . . . a tree watered by hidden springs of whose waters our own sap is long unattainted (6).

Throughout the passage—and indeed, throughout the essay—Austin distinguished herself from “house-bred, book-fed peoples.” In the end, though, she used the twisted temporalities of Los Gallos, La Casa Querida, and other modernist institutions. Despite their differences, all of these institutions divided Native “fact” and settler “history.” In their eyes, Natives appeared to be part of a deep and distant past: even when they adopted new technologies, they preserved an “essential primitiveness,” and even when they copied other cultures, they sustained some “vital pagan quality.” In contrast, settlers seemed able to shift between past and present: when they were stressed, they could visit the “primitive hearth of society,” but after they “repolarize[d],” they could “ascend” back into modernity (5). With this regime of temporal sovereignty, the modernist institutions appropriated Taos Pueblo’s “creation legend”: where “hidden springs” once “water[ed]” a Native community, they started slaking the thirst of settler society. Ultimately, the modernist institutions had it both ways: while the real Taos Pueblo paid modernity’s costs, the imaginary Taos Pueblo offered pre-modernity’s benefits.

Unimaginable Infrastructures

In the borderlands, modern infrastructures have developed alongside modernist institutions: on the one hand, bureaucrats and businessmen have built a “coercive . . .  system” based on the “large-scale manipulation of water,” and on the other hand, writers and artists helped their publics ignore—and thereby intensify—environmental problems (Worster, Rivers of Empire, 5). In works like Taos Pueblo, this form of environmental unconsciousness became so immersive that it started to seem invisible—it shimmered on the surfaces of photographs, lurked between lines of prose, and clung to finely bound books. In other modernist media, it emerged much more explicitly.

As a closing example of the way modernist institutions concealed modern infrastructures, consider Austin’s late articles on water in the west (1925–27).[44] While they continued longstanding critiques of California’s water policies, these articles championed the Colorado River Compact—and with it, the world’s most invasive dams, aqueducts, and other water infrastructures.[45] To Austin, “the Southwest” represented the “last opportunity for the rise of a superior English-speaking culture” (Austin, “Colorado River Controversy,” 512). On the one hand, the region had the right racial “stock”: instead of the “Blackman” or the “Bushman,” it had the “stable” “Spanish” the “prepotent” “Indian” (Austin, “Colorado River Project,” 113–14). On the other hand, the region offered an ideal ecological niche: along its aqueducts, the “mass of people” could have “intimate contact . . . with a varied natural environment (114–15).” With these perspectives from scientific racism and environmental determinism, Austin predicted that the Southwest would become an “Indivisible Utility”: as “seven states and the federal government” redesigned the Colorado River, they would establish and maintain a “standing mandate of cooperation.”[46] As she developed her infrastructural imaginary, Austin made some good points, and in her invocation of Native and Nuevomexicana/o “mother ditches,” she anticipated contemporary environmental justice initiatives.[47] In the end, though, she did not realize that water infrastructures were exacerbating socio-ecological struggles. Worse, she did not recognize that her utopian fantasies were obscuring a dystopian reality. As Natives and Nuevomexicanas/os fought for survival, Austin made it seem like they would suffer an “inevitable slow decline” (Austin, “Indivisible Utility,” 304). And as the Colorado River ran wild, she accepted that it would transform “into irrigation ditches and hydroelectric power” (Austin, “Colorado River Controversy,” 512).

How can we read Austin’s late articles? More broadly, how can we theorize relationships between modernist institutions, modern infrastructures, and racialization? To answer these questions, we need to chart new courses for ecocriticism and the environmental humanities. Even in their best work, ecocritics tend to link literary texts to the prevailing forms of progressive politics; thus, while Ursula K. Heise’s “eco-cosmopolitans” would fit into Greenpeace or the Sierra Club, Rob Nixon’s “writer-activists” could join most environmental justice movements.[48] As these scholars demonstrate, literature has helped us love places we have never been and care for creatures we have never met. As I am arguing, however, literature has also allowed us to disguise (or disregard) our use (and abuse) of our planet. To prepare for our precarious future, we must tell both of these stories in their indissoluble interdependence. Even as we raise environmental awareness, we must reckon with environmental unconsciousness.


For engaging with earlier drafts of this article, I would like to thank Jason Bell, Alicia Schmidt Camacho, Wai Chee Dimock, Amy Hungerford, Andrew Lanham, Shaj Mathew, Pedro Regalado, Randa Tawil, and Michael Warner. For attending presentations related to this work, I am grateful to colleagues at the 2018 meetings of the Modern Language Association and the Modernist Studies Association. Finally, for funding my research in the borderlands, I am indebted to the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration.

[1] To reconstruct this road trip, I began by consulting Ansel Adams and Mary Street Alinder, Ansel Adams: An Autobiography (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1985); Anne Hammond, “Ansel Adams and Mary Austin: Taos Pueblo (1930),” History of Photography 23, no. 4 (1999): 383–90; Anne Hammond, Ansel Adams: Divine Performance (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002); Daniel Worden, “Landscape Culture: Ansel Adams and Mary Austin’s Taos Pueblo,” Criticism 55, no. 1 (2013): 69–94; and Mary Street Alinder, Ansel Adams: A Biography (London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2014). I then turned to the correspondence between Ansel Adams and Mary Austin, Box 9, Ansel Adams Archive, Center for Creative Photography.

[2] See Paul K. Saint-Amour, “Weak Theory, Weak Modernism,” Modernism/modernity 25, no. 4 (2018): 437–59. By defining “weak modernism” around “collaboration,” “translation,” “appropriation,” “counter-appropriation,” and other “multi-directional networked exchanges,” Saint-Amour draws on Wai Chee Dimock, “Weak Theory: Henry James, Colm Tóibín, and W. B. Yeats,” Critical Inquiry 39, no. 4 (2013): 732–53. At the same time, he intervenes in a decades-long discussion that runs through Michael H. Levenson, A Genealogy of Modernism: A Study of English Literary Doctrine 1908–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984); Peter Nicholls, Modernisms: A Literary Guide (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995); and Douglas Mao and Rebecca L. Walkowitz, “The New Modernist Studies,” PMLA 123, no. 3 (2008): 737–48. In the 1980s, scholars realized that the term “modernism” was a “blunt instrument” that was only fit for “rough tasks” (Levenson, vii). Then, in the 1990s, scholars broke the monolith of (capital “M”) Modernism into a variety of (less male, less white, less European) “modernisms” (Nicholls, Modernisms, 1). Finally, in the 2000s, scholars developed a “New Modernist Studies” that included a range of people, places, and practices (Mao and Walkowitz).

[3] Although there are several biographies of Mary Austin, the best is Susan Goodman and Carl Dawson, Mary Austin and the American West (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009).

[4] To arrive at this definition, I began with Lawrence Rainey, Institutions of Modernism: Literary Elites and Public Culture (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998). However, I then turned to many of the sources that Robert Higney discusses in “Institutional Picaresque.”

[5] Over the course of her life, the woman whom many know as Mabel Dodge Luhan (1879–1962) had four husbands: Karl Evans (m. 1900; d. 1902), Edwin Dodge (m. 1904; div. 1916), Maurice Sterne (m. 1916; div. 1921), and Tony Lujan (m. 1923). Because I want to stick to a single name, and because I do not want to misspell “Lujan” as “Luhan,” I refer to her as “Dodge.” In this respect, I follow Flannery Burke, From Greenwich Village to Taos: Primitivism and Place at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2008), 3–4. In addition to Burke’s outstanding book, I have drawn biographical information from Mabel Dodge Luhan, Movers and Shakers: Volume Three of Intimate Memories, 1936 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1985); Mabel Dodge Luhan, Edge of Taos Desert: An Escape to Reality: Volume Four of Intimate Memories, 1937 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987); Lois Palken Rudnick, Mabel Dodge Luhan: New Woman, New Worlds (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1984); Lois Palken Rudnick, Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998); and Mabel Dodge Luhan and Company: American Moderns and the West, ed. Lois Palken Rudnick and MaLin Wilson-Powell (Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2016).

[6] In 1922, four University of California, Berkeley students published the first issue of Laughing Horse. In 1923, Walter Willard “Spud” Johnson took responsibility for the magazine. In the following years, Johnson spent most of his time in New Mexico, first as Witter Bynner’s lover and later as Mabel Dodge’s secretary. He published dozens of pieces by and about New Mexico modernists (see Sharyn Udall, Spud Johnson & Laughing Horse [Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994]).

[7] On the feminists at the forefront of New Mexico modernism, see Margaret D. Jacobs, Engendered Encounters: Feminism and Pueblo Cultures, 1879–1934 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999); Molly H. Mullin, Culture in the Marketplace: Gender, Art, and Value in the American Southwest (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001); Maureen Reed, A Woman’s Place: Women Writing New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005); Janis P. Stout, Picturing a Different West: Vision, Illustration, and the Tradition of Cather and Austin (Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2007); and Burke, From Greenwich Village to Taos. According to Burke, Euro American women saw New Mexico as a territory in which they “could successfully be both women and artists” (135). In this “women’s sphere,” they infused “a vast amount of space” with “aesthetic and political expression” (139). Moreover, as Mullin describes, they explored the thresholds between (capital “C,” fine art) Culture and (lower-case “c,” ethnological) cultures. 

[8] Mabel Dodge Luhan, “A Bridge Between Cultures,” Theatre Arts Monthly 9, no. 5 (1925): 297–301, 299–300.

[9] For a general introduction to primitivism, start with Marianna Torgovnick, Gone Primitive: Savage Intellects, Modern Lives (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1990) and Primitive Passions: Men, Women, and the Quest for Ecstasy (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1998). In the late nineteenth century, Europeans and Euro Americans became interested in the “places, things, and experiences” that they considered “primitive” (Torgovnick, Primitive Passions, 4). Through new forms of social science (anthropology, psychology), high art (literature, sculpture) and popular culture (advertising, clothing), they turned “primitivism” into a way of “thinking about origins and pure states” (5). At some points, they “suspend[ed] the normative conditions of the Western self” (8). But for the most part, they spread stereotypes that justified their brutal “civilization” (Gone Primitive, 11). For the specific history of primitivism in the borderlands, see Jacobs, Engendered Encounters; Mullin, Culture in the Marketplace; and Burke, From Greenwich Village to Taos.

[10] María Josefina Saldaña-Portillo, Indian Given: Racial Geographies across Mexico and the United States (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2016), 17.

[11] D. H. Lawrence, “New Mexico,” 1928, in Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 173–82, 176.

[12] Marta Weigle and Kyle Fiore, Santa Fe and Taos: The Writer’s Era, 1916–1941 (Santa Fe, NM: Ancient City Press, 1982); Arrell M. Gibson, The Santa Fe and Taos Colonies: Age of the Muses, 1900–1942 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1983); and Lynn Cline, Literary Pilgrims: The Santa Fe and Taos Writers’ Colonies, 1917-1950 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2007). Looking back to 1982, it is not surprising to see Weigle and Fiore basking in “the liberating atmosphere of [the] Southwestern Bohemias” (vii). But after decades of work in critical race and ethnic studies, it is more troubling to hear Cline talking about “timeless traditions” (ix), the “allure of the exotic” (1), and (in a nod to Charles Lummis’s shameless stereorypes) the “land of mañana” (21).

[13] Leah Dilworth, Imagining Indians in the Southwest: Persistent Visions of a Primitive Past (Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Scholarly Press, 1997); Chris Wilson, The Myth of Santa Fe: Creating a Modern Regional Tradition (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997); Hal K. Rothman, Devil’s Bargains: Tourism in the Twentieth-Century American West (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1998); Charles Montgomery, The Spanish Redemption: Heritage, Power, and Loss on New Mexico’s Upper Rio Grande (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002); Burke, From Greenwich Village to Taos; and Elizabeth Lloyd Oliphant, “Marketing the Southwest: Modernism, the Fred Harvey Company, and the Indian Detour,” American Literature 89, no. 1 (2017): 91–119. Wilson explains how the “Myth of Santa Fe” “provide[d] a unifying vision of the city” that “obscure[d] long-standing cultural and class frictions” (8). Similarly, Rothman argues that the “Invented Santa Fe” used a “seductive and well-organized mask” to conceal ethno-racial conflicts (81). Finally, and quite eloquently, Burke insists that “as long as New Mexico’s ‘untouched’ and ‘primitive’ beauty allows outsiders and locals alike to view the region as outside time, few of the area’s problems are likely to find genuine solutions” (12).

[14] On relational racialization in the territorial and early statehood periods, see John M. Nieto-Phillips, The Language of Blood: The Making of Spanish-American Identity in New Mexico, 1880s–1930s (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2004); Pablo Mitchell, Coyote Nation: Sexuality, Race, and Conquest in Modernizing New Mexico, 1880–1920 (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2005); Laura E. Gómez, Manifest Destinies: The Making of the Mexican American Race (New York: New York University Press, 2008); and Anthony P. Mora, Border Dilemmas: Racial and National Uncertainties in New Mexico, 1848–1912 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010).

[15] For conflicts over communal land grants in the territory that we now call New Mexico, see Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1980); Charles L. Briggs and John R. Van Ness (eds.), Land, Water, and Culture: New Perspectives on Hispanic Land Grants (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987); Malcolm Ebright, Land Grants and Lawsuits in Northern New Mexico (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994); Jake Kosek, Understories: The Political Life of Forests in Northern New Mexico (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006); and David Correia, Properties of Violence: Law and Land Grant Struggle in Northern New Mexico (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2013).

[16] In the vast bibliography on water in the west, start with Donald Worster, Rivers of Empire: Water, Aridity, and the Growth of the American West (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985) and Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water (New York: Penguin, 1986). On the watersheds of New Mexico, see José A. Rivera, Acequia Culture: Water, Land, and Community in the Southwest (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1998); Sylvia Rodríguez, Acequia: Water Sharing, Sanctity, and Place (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2006); Fred M. Phillips, G. Emlen Hall, and Mary E. Black, Reining in the Rio Grande: People, Land, and Water (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2011); Juan Estevan Arellano, Enduring Acequias: Wisdom of the Land, Knowledge of the Water (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2014).

[17] Adams’s environmentalism plays a prominent role in two major studies, Hammond, Ansel Adams and Alinder, Ansel Adams. Austin’s environmentalism is detailed in the definitive biography, Goodman and Dawson, Mary Austin. It is also key to studies such as Benay Blend, “Mary Austin and the Western Conservation Movement: 1900-1927,” Journal of the Southwest 30, no. 1 (1988): 12–34; Noreen Groover Lape, West of the Border: The Multicultural Literature of the Western American Frontiers (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2000); and Heike Schaefer, Mary Austin’s Regionalism: Reflections on Gender, Genre, and Geography (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2004).

[18] See Robert Higney’s “Institutional Picaresque.” Like Higney, I am drawing on Jeremy Braddock, Collecting as Modernist Practice (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012). However, I am also thinking with Harris Feinsod, The Poetry of the Americas: From Good Neighbors to Countercultures (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

[19] John Durham Peters, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2015); Nicole Starosielski, The Undersea Network (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2015); Tung-Hui-Hu, A Prehistory of the Cloud (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2015).

[20] I am taking this term from Arun Agrawal, Environmentality: Technologies of Government and the Making of Subjects (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005). Drawing on Michel Foucault’s “governmentality,” Agrawal defines “environmentality” as the “knowledges, politics, institutions, and subjectivities that come to be linked together with the emergence of the environment as a domain that requires regulation and protection” (226). In this sense, he argues that the “conduct of conduct” applies to both humans and nonhumans, that the “arts of government” are both social and natural.

[21] On the “distinctions” that create different forms of “capital” in the “cultural field,” see Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984). For the first mention of “the Acoma Book,” see Ansel Adams to Mary Austin, April 22, 1928, Adams Archive.

[22] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, June 17, 1928, Adams Archive.

[23] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, July 5, 1928, Adams Archive.

[24] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, October 23, 1928, Adams Archive.

[25] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, June 17, 1928, Adams Archive; Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, January 2, 1931, Adams Archive.

[26] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, July 5, 1928, Adams Archive; Ansel Adams to Albert Bender, April 1929, Adams Archive. In the following years, the collaborators became increasingly “eager to see [more] books”: On April 4, 1930, Adams wrote, “if this Portfolio meets with the success I anticipate, we should proceed with a series on Zuni, Hopi, Acoma, etc.” Then, on March 13, 1931, Austin pointed out, “collectors who come into the series later will want to complete their sets.”

[27] On these figures, see Brian Hochman, Savage Preservation: The Ethnographic Origins of Modern Media Technology (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014).

[28] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, January 2, 1931, Adams Archive.

[29] Mary Austin to Ansel Adams, March 13, 1931, Adams Archive.

[30] Ansel Adams to Mary Austin, February 23, 1930, Adams Archive; Ansel Adams to Mary Austin, April 4, 1930, Adams Archive.

[31] Ansel Adams to Mary Austin, August 30, 1929, Adams Archive. On Taos Pueblo’s price, see Hammond, “Taos Pueblo,” 385. At $75, each of the 108 books sold for as much as “a new washing machine.” At $375, each of the 150 copies reprinted in 1977 was less expensive.

[32] In addition to Adams, Austin, Dodge, and Lujan, Taos Pueblo involved Hazel Dreis (who made covers and bindings), Crane and Company (which manufactured the paper), William Dassonville (who prepared the paper for photographic printing), and Edwin and Robert Grabhorn (who controlled the publication process). As Anne Hammond argues in “Taos Pueblo,” the book’s use of these institutions changed the course of photography. Meanwhile, as Daniel Worden demonstrates in “Landscape Culture,” the book’s formal experiments “present[ed] regionalism as a kind of formalism, and modernist straight photography as a kind of regionalism” (80).

[33] Ansel Adams and Mary Austin, Taos Pueblo (San Francisco, CA: Grabhorn Press, 1930). Subsequent references are noted in parentheses. Publicly, Adams and Austin were polite to their “friends,” but privately, they had other priorities. On September 22, 1930, Austin asked Adams whether he was interested in writing either “a personal dedication” or “a series of dedications to the important figures among the friends of the Indians.” Then, in January 1931, Adams told Bender, “The Taos Book represents much more than an effort of fine-book making; it reflects the thoughtfulness and generosity of a dear friend. In type it is dedicated to the Indians—but in spirit it is inscribed to you.”

[34] Edward Curtis was one of the foremost “salvage ethnographers.” Between 1907 and 1930, he combined photographs and texts in the twenty the volumes of The North American Indian. Coincidentally, he visited Taos Pueblo in 1926.

[35] In her essay, Austin describes how the Ancestral Puebloans migrated across mountains and deserts, settled along rivers and springs, and divided into distinct subgroups. Even more remarkably, she celebrates the 1680 Pueblo Revolt and other acts of “resistance to White aggression” (4).

[36] Philip J. Deloria, Indians in Unexpected Places (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004), 6.

[37] Mary Austin, Earth Horizon: Autobiography, 1932 (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1991), 355.

[38] D. H. Lawrence, “Taos,” 1923, in Mornings in Mexico and Other Essays, ed. Virginia Crosswhite Hyde (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2009), 123–28, 126; Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, ed. John J. Murphy (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), 231.

[39] See Hochman, Savage Preservation.

[40] On these dynamics, see Philip Deloria, Playing Indian (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 125.

[41] See Gómez, Manifest Destinies.

[42] Gómez, Manifest Destinies, 28–31 includes more information about these events. In contrast, Austin features a tawdry tale of “drunk” Natives, “disgruntled” Nuevomexicanas/os, and an “ill-advised” “insurrection” (Taos Pueblo, 5).

[43] Mark Rifkin, Beyond Settler Time: Temporal Sovereignty and Indigenous Self-Determination (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2017), viii. According to Rifkin, “Native peoples occupy a double bind within dominant settler reckonings of time. Either they are consigned to the past, or they are inserted into a present defined on non-native terms” (vii). To break this “double bind,” Rifkin argues that Natives should not seek inclusion in settler society; instead, they should interrogate the norms that allow this society to exist in the first place. Then, working through a diverse archive, he recovers Native temporalities that have existed around and against their settler counterparts.

[44] Mary Austin, “The Indivisible Utility,” The Survey, December 1, 1925; “The Colorado River Project and the Culture of the Southwest,” The Southwest Review, October 1927; “The Colorado River Controversy,” The Nation, November 9, 1927. She also took up these themes in a letter to the editor, “The Future of the Southwest,” The New Republic, April 8, 1925.

[45] For a different take on the articles, see Blend, “Mary Austin”; Schaefer, Mary Austin’s Regionalism; Goodman and Dawson, Mary Austin. Whereas I argue that the articles relied on and reaffirmed environmental unconsciousness, these scholars insist that they cultivated environmental awareness.

[46] Austin quoted in Waldo Walker, “Southwest as a Centre of a New Civilization: Mary Austin, Novelist, Predicts a Great Race Development in the Desert Region Soon to Be Watered by the Colorado River,” New York Times, October 19, 1924.

[47] On these efforts, see Rivera, Acequia Culture; Rodríguez, Acequia; and Arellano, Enduring Acequias.

[48] Ursula K. Heise, Sense of Place and Sense of Planet: The Environmental Imagination of the Global (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008) and Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011).