The late icon’s travelogues are paired with Ed Ruscha’s photos in a new book.
In the introduction for the new book Sam Shepard New Mexico, writer-director Taylor Sheridan makes an observation about the late actor and playwright’s storytelling prowess. Shepard’s works — from the depictions of his own life to the dialogue in his acclaimed plays — always carry a noble purpose.
“To ask questions about ourselves we are scared to ask,” Sheridan writes. “To allow an audience to benefit from an experience without the burden of enduring it. That is the job of a storyteller.”
The new book, Sam Shepard New Mexico, manages to weave together a new experience using powerful passages from different times and places. Shepard’s stark, sometimes desperate inner dialogues from weary days on the roads of New Mexico are complemented by landscape photographs from the respected artist Ed Ruscha.
We spoke to Lawless Media’s John Miller about what inspired the new book.
He’s been an admirer of Shepard’s storytelling prowess since the 1980s:
“After college, I went and worked at Esquire in New York as an art director there. They were publishing some Sam Shepard stuff [from Motel Chronicles], and I totally fell in love with it. ... And at that time in the ’80s in New York, I was able to see [his plays] True West and A Lie of the Mind and became completely hooked. I moved over to Vanity Fair, and they were doing a big story on Jessica Lange. She canceled the photo shoot in New York at the last minute because she was in Santa Fe, and I said [to the photographer], ‘You have to go down there and shoot her in Santa Fe, because you might get Sam.’ And they did. And the pictures were great, like, way more interesting than just her alone.”
On deciding to publish a book fueled by Shepard’s writings:
“Besides working in magazines, I’ve also been a book packager and worked with a lot of major publishing companies and published more than 50 books for them. When I moved here to New Mexico a couple of years ago, I wanted to start a small press, and my first thought was, Wow, there’s all this great writing of Shepard’s scattered here and there, about New Mexico. It’s some of his most interesting stuff. So, I thought, Let’s put it into a book.”
Finding the right images to complement Shepard’s words:
“I wanted to include images with [Shepard’s words] that were not just pictures of him. Ed Ruscha’s one of my favorite artists. ... I’m sure Shepard knew of Edward Ruscha — he’s a pretty well-known artist and had spent a lot of time in California, too. ... Ed was a big admirer of Sam, and that’s kind of why he agreed to do this. His studio found these, basically, outtakes from the Twentysix Gasoline Stations book. And he was very generous in letting me use them.”
The new book’s reception in Santa Fe:
“I’ve put it in the bookstores here in town, but also in some galleries. Every place I go has a Sam Shepard story. He’s a favorite son here even though he’s not from here — everybody loves him and claims him as their own.”
The quality that binds the two artists’ work:
“I think it’s the desolation. The emptiness of those gas stations [Ruscha photographed] really mirrors where [Shepard’s] stuff is set, you know, in a motel room or in a car. And it’s always on the way somewhere.”
Sam Shepard New Mexico by Sam Shepard with photographs by Ed Ruscha. Published by Lawless Media. Available for preview and purchase at lawless.media. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to ALS Therapy Development Institute and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center.
Photography: Image courtesy Lawless Media
From our July 2020 issue.