Photographer’s interests are limitless

John Ninnemann’s photographs can be seen at the Raven House Gallery in Mancos. Enlargephoto

Jeanne Archambeault/Times

John Ninnemann’s photographs can be seen at the Raven House Gallery in Mancos.

John Ninnemann’s photography is one of the newest displays at the Raven House Gallery. It’s an interesting combination of black and white photos, color and digital photos that he has taken over the years.

But his interests don’t stop there.

Ninneman is the quintessential Renaissance man, dabbling in not just photography, but music, teaching, biology, writing and the study of ancient astronomy. He spends his summers as a naturalist guide for “Off the Beaten Path”, an organization that offers travel experiences, and serves on several boards. He loves the community of Mancos and strives to further his knowledge any way that he can.

“I love to learn new things,” Ninnemann said. “And I love to take pictures of the things I see.”

The thing that has really piqued his interest in the last few years is the ancient astronomy in this area. He has spent several winter solstices in the canyons of Chaco Canyon, observing and photographing the sunrises and sunsets that occur there. He believes that the sun, in its cycle, rises and sets over certain places where the Ancients built.

“I can’t believe that the placement and orientation of the buildings are accidental in this part of the world,” he said. “Where did they get the knowledge?”

The sun’s cycle is not the only one that he’s observed.

Ninnemann, in 2007, went to Mesa Verde and saw that, inside the Square Tower at Cliff Palace, there are 19 hash marks that were put there by Ancient Puebloans. He went on to explain that the lunar cycle is just short of 19 years long. Then he told how every 19 years, from the vantage point of the Square Tower, the moon sets over Sun Temple, another archeological site at Mesa Verde, across the canyon.

“Why would one culture be astronomically aware of this cycle and another one not?” he said. “I’ve been interested in this for about 20 years.” Much of his time is spent observing this, he said, and is the subject of many of his photos.

In his research, he’s found that the Hopi and Zuni cultures have sunwatchers, men who specifically watch for just this kind of thing with the sun’s cycle, how the sun rises in alignment with certain buildings or kivas. These two cultures only follow the sun’s cycle; not the lunar cycle.

But, he said, there are skeptics all over. He’s not out to prove them wrong, though. He just wants to learn more about the ancient cultures, what they contributed to astronomy, and further the hypotheses that he has found.

Ninnemann went to graduate school in electron microscopy at Colorado State University. “There I had a darkroom for my studies and I was hooked on the black and white photography. I just turned it into a recreational hobby,” he said.

He still likes film, darkrooms and black and white photography, as he thinks it fits well with astronomy. But, he said, it’s getting harder and harder to get supplies.

Most of the photographs he has on display at Raven House are of Mesa Verde and ravens — none of his astronomical studies.

“I’d like to see Mancos take off as a well-recognized art center. We need that identity to bring people in,” he said.

Ninnemann is a violinist for the San Juan Symphony Orchestra, has co-written three books — one on the Ancestral Puebloan world and two about mining camps in Colorado — and has exhibited his photography in several area galleries.

So, as a retired biology professor, who taught at Fort Lewis College, and has been a dean in several arts and science departments, he misses the academic life. “I miss the students,” he said.

But just a little; he has much more to keep him busy.

Ninneman’s photographs can be seen at Raven House any time. He is also going to have an exhibit, titled “Ancient Skywatchers of the Southwest”, at the Anasazi Heritage Center from Nov. 23 to April 27, 2013. The opening reception will be Nov. 25 at 1 p.m.