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This article about “Sí El Paso” first appeared in The El Paso Times 05 January 2020 issue.  The article is written by Maria Cortez Gonzalez.

In his worldwide travels, El Paso photographer Mark Paulda is often asked where is he from.

When he replies El Paso, the second question is usually “why El Paso?”

Paulda, who is super proud of his city, wants people to know what El Paso is about. And the best way for him to answer is through a pictorial.

Through TCU Press, he has recently released “Sí El Paso,” a look of El Paso and its people through photographs. The book comes out 10 years after his first photographic book of the city, which was a best-seller for the Fort Worth-based publisher.

“The first book, ‘Celebrating El Paso’ had City Hall on the cover so once the building was raised, it made the book outdated,” Paulda said. Not to mention, there are no more copies available of the book.

Paulda said the city has changed a lot in 10 years, especially in development Downtown.

“The Mills Building has been renovated and brought back to life and has a whole different character,” he said as an example

So he was happy to take another look and photograph key areas of El Paso including buildings designed by architect Henry C. Trost, the missions, around the University of Texas at El Paso and Fort Bliss as well as people and cultural activities.

Paulda said El Pasoans are always proud of their city, whether they live here or are away. He sees the book being given to both people unfamiliar with the city as well as former El Pasoans who have a heart for their former city.

The book includes anecdotes about El Paso by both regular residents as well as as some notable people like artist Carmen Navar and former city Rep. Emma Acosta.

An Excerpt:

 My El Paso not only is the home of my Hispanic culture but is also nestled between the countries and three states and has been greatly influenced by American and Native American cultures and cuisines. – Carmen Navar

“We’re kind of a mystery to outsiders so I hope people get a really good sense of who and what we are,” Paulda said.

The 200-page book retails for $35 and is available at Barnes & Noble stores.

Flying high above Elephant Butte offers a delightful study in contrasts.   The lake’s stunning cobalt-blue water strikes my eye as if a painter had left masterful strokes on the desert floor below.   Draining into the once mighty Rio Grande, the blue water sends out tendrils in brilliant complex shapes, like veins.   The colors vary splendidly in pastoral shades of green and yellow where water nurtures the conspicuous vegetation clinging to life at its banks.  Have Van Gogh or Monet been here with his artistic touch, I wonder?   The answer is clear, as is the evidence of the importance of the Rio Grande.

Over one hundred million years ago, this area was part of a vast shallow ocean. Once the sea receded, the area was the favorite hunting ground of the Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur.  Evidence of the Rex, one of the largest land-dwelling predators of all time, and other dinosaur species have been discovered in area rock formations.  Evidence has also been found at Kilborne Hole, which I wrote about in a previous post.

Although fossils of the Stegomastodon (a primitive relative of today’s elephant) have been discovered near the lake, the area was not named for its former inhabitants, but for an island in the lake—once the core of an ancient volcano—that is shaped like an elephant.  The lake itself formed when a dam was constructed across the Rio Grande in 1916.  Forty miles long, the lake shoulders more than two hundred miles of shoreline.

The flow of  the Rio Grande River through Southern New Mexico and West Texas is controlled at Elephant Butte.  At certain times of the year river water flows like a mighty river and at other times one might wonder if the river has dried up.  

Elephant Butte is yet another example of the beauty you can find if you take the time to explore El Paso and one hundred and twenty miles around.  All of the areas I mention throughout this blog may seem like a massive amount of area to cover.  The truth is, however, each destination is roughly a day trip from El Paso.  

I’m a fairly particular traveler in that I never want to feel as if I’ve wasted my time traveling to a place.  I’ve gone to great extents and expense traveling to some places.  I know the feeling of disappointment.  So, when I highly recommend exploring the Desert Southwest, I do so with confidence.  I do so knowing you’ll be in awe if you follow these trails yourself.

Digital Photo Magazine interviewed me about photographing Istanbul.  What a treat to visit Istanbul, but to photograph this great city, too?  Wow.  Istanbul offers photo opportunities wherever you turn.

Hagia Sofia Reflection Photo

What was it about Istanbul that made you want to capture it on camera?

The Ottoman architecture of Istanbul, it’s minarets reaching to the heavens, the colourful spice market, Grand Bazaar presented a vivid image in my mind.  Hypothetically, I had been photographing Istanbul even before I arrived.   I had seen a myriad of photos while researching my trip and visualized how I would capture the various scenes differently.   Once my feet hit the pavement, it seemed as if I had already visited the city, making my task of capturing the city on camera all the more easy.  Additionally, having grown up in Tripoli, Libya, re-discovering the Islamic world has been high on my list.  Istanbul has been only one stop with regard to this journey.

Istanbul is famous for its beautiful Ottoman architecture, such as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque and so on; artistically, do you think you did it justice?

Ottoman architecture is brilliant, isn’t it?  The style completely captures my imagination, and there is a fairytale magical element I’ve not seen elsewhere.  My eye is drawn towards curves, and lines, so Istanbul was ideal for me as a photographer.  Hour upon hour I studied Hagia Sophia, Sultan Ahmed Mosque (Blue Mosque), Süleymaniye Mosque, Basilica Cistern following each curve and line.  I have thousands of images I captured in Istanbul.  My aim was to take the viewer on a journey with a different perspective.  I’m confident I achieved this.

Moving on to the Hagia Sophia; with it being such an imposing building, did you find it a challenge to photograph?

Absolutely.  With Hagia Sophia being so large, and the buildings around it, I found the square to have the best perspective.  At night, Hagia Sophia glowed beautifully with its lights, and a fantastic reflection can be found in the fountain.  While up close, I could capture particular architectural elements, but even with my 18mm super wide lens the entire structure could not be captured until I found myself in the square.  I did walk the perimeter of Hagia Sophia numerous times to assure myself the best perspective had been found.  At night Hagia Sofia is pure magic. 

The Hagia Sophia has been home to both Eastern Christianity and Islam; do you think you managed to capture those historically spiritual elements?

Hagia Sophia is a feast for one’s eyes, with or without a camera.   I vividly remember being awestruck upon entering the first time.   The blend of Eastern Christianity and Islam is beautifully evident in this structure, and my camera worked overtime more than once.  While I was well aware of the symbols before me, capturing each through my journey through this marvel, it was not until I viewed my images later that I knew each element had been covered.  That said, I focused on the overall beauty rather than single out one element over another.

What were the significant differences in photographing Istanbul during the day and at night?

My preference is capturing any city during the night hours as their beauty shines far brighter to my eye during this time.  Details in architecture are more pronounced against the night sky, the lights and motion of Istanbul make the city seem more vibrant and vivacious, yet the character stays the same.  With fewer people walking the pavement, I can more easily “touch the soul” of a city during the night time hours, and my creative eye wakes up.  Additionally, there is more of a challenge for me to capture urban areas with long exposures as rarely do I use a tripod, and I must discover ways to keep the camera steady as well as test various exposure times.