Taos, as seen through Martin Shaffer's camera

Sentimental snapshots

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Photographs are illustrative, undeniable records of family, friends, places and events that one day become an important part of history. From the 1940s to mid-1970s, one man was busy recording weddings, taking family portraits and snapping his camera's shutter around Taos. His name was Martin Franklin Shaffer — a name that invokes fond memories of a man described as "one of the nicest people you'd ever meet" by those who knew him. 

Shaffer was born in Mountainair, New Mexico, on Dec. 10, 1913, to Clem Shaffer and Lena Rivers Imboden Shaffer. He came to Taos in 1933 and 1934 as part of the University of New Mexico (UNM) summer arts program to work with the founders of the Taos Society of Artists. In the late '30s, Shaffer relocated to New York "to understand the arts scene," relayed his grandson, Aidan Shaffer. There, he had an exhibit in the Students League Gallery, after which he went to the Midwest to earn a Masters in Fine Art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He returned to Taos in 1940 and opened Shaffer Studios on Upper Ranchitos, which focused on portrait and wedding photography and iron work. In the early 1950s, Aidan Shaffer said, his grandfather owned Martinez Hacienda and ran his ironworks out of it.

While the studio was Martin Shaffer's bread and butter, for his own pleasure he loved to stroll around the heart of town taking photographs of whatever and whoever caught his eye. Fiestas de Taos definitely got his attention, as did the everyman on the street.

Martin Shaffer died in May 1986, leaving behind a collection of large negatives and vintage images. Aidan Shaffer, while tending to his grandfather's home that unfortunately has been damaged from vandalism, decided to tackle the task of going through what is estimated to be thousands of negatives and photos stored in about 30 boxes. He soon discovered what a monumental task he had signed himself up for.

"I felt the photos needed to be archived after I started looking through them," he said of the images that had been sitting his mother's house collecting dust for many years. "These are historic and valuable images."

Finding himself alone in new territory, Shaffer talked to some friends about what to do with the collection. Their suggestions led him to pictorial archivist Cindy Abel Morris at the Center for Southwest Research and Special Collections at the UNM Libraries. 

Now, with the help of Abel Morris and UNM students, the collection is being painstakingly and gingerly organized and categorized for archival.

Aidan Shaffer does not believe any of these photographs have ever been published before now. His plan is to digitize them and produce a coffee table book in his grandfather's honor.

The stories these black-and-white windows to the past tell could just as easily been placed in the Leyendas and Raices sections of this publication.

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