James Crocker has a deep love for Tucumcari, and is a wealth of great stories.
LeDeane Studio has been a leading business in Tucumcari for decades; the founders, Leo Rorabaugh and Clara Deane made a clever play on their names when they came up with ‘LeDeane,’ and the studio they founded has been playing a part in Tucumcari’s story ever since.
Back in 1961, a young James Crocker worked at LeDeane Studio for several years before starting a newspaper.
Later, in 1977, he became the shop’s second owner and has operated it since. Being a serious photography studio, James does a lot of the work you’d expect: high school photos, portraits, and restoration of old photos.
His studio also has a greenhouse in the back that looks like a soundstage for wild west movies. He told me it’s very popular with people, as it offers many ways to set up shots that accentuate the best features of the subjects.
As we got deeper into our conversation, it was clear that Jameshad much o Tucumcari’s historydocumented through pictures of its people and places.
Hanging in his hall are samples he made while doing people’s portraits. “Instead of throwing these away, I thought it would be nice to keep them here. There are a lot of wonderful stories in these photos,” he said with a smile.
A new print of a photo restored by James, and the (very old) original on the right.
History old and new
Some of the photos James has in his studio are from when he was a boy. There is a great shot of a malt shop and hearing James recount his memories of it sounds like he lived in a Norman Rockwell painting!
As he showed me various photos and told me their stories, each one was more interesting than the last, like the story of the first video he ever shot.
There was a building burning down, and James “had a new movie camera, so I filmed it,” he said. As he filmed, he said there were a good number of women leaving the building, carrying armloads of their belongings as the building burned to the ground.
James knows a thing or two about cameras.
“It’s the first video I ever shot, and I’ve never watched that video, too many awful things,” he said in a somber tone before we moved on to brighter, happier stories about the people he’s photographed over the years.
More recently, he was engaged to get photos of the opening of a new bridge, and in the shot you can see the one it’s replacing in the foreground.
Even as history is captured in his lens, there is always more for James to shoot in the ever changing story of Tucumcari.