by Patricia Duran
Dr. Truman Smith (photo by Liz Boom)
In December 2018, Elizabeth “Liz” Boomer approached Dr. Truman Smith, a local veterinarian at Mesa Vista Veterinary Hospital, to see if he would be interested in participating in a yearlong project to document his everyday life.
Originally intended to be a photo exhibition with the best photo chosen from each week of the year, the project became a published book filled with snapshots of Dr. Smith’s work and life at and around the veterinary hospital.
Dr. Smith with herd of cattle (photo by Liz Boomer).
“Following Truman” was recently published in January 2021. The project took two years to complete with one year of work in the field and another year to go through tens of thousands of photos, notes, and video to fill 256 pages.
“Within the first five months of the project, I said, ‘Doc (Dr. Smith), I don’t mean to scare you, but I think this is turning into a book [and you have to sign off on it before it goes to the printer],’” said Liz. “I wanted him to check the medical portion to make sure I didn’t misunderstand a word.”
Dr. Smith thought about Liz’s proposition and gave the green light to move forward with a published book.
“You don’t just get to see that he’s a veterinarian [practicing as a doctor for over 50 years], but he’s also a dad, a grandpa, a Christian, and a part of the community. I wanted to show him as a man,” said Liz.
The journey to publish “Following Truman” began when Liz moved to Raton in June of 2018. Beforehand, she was traveling for four years in her RV with her three dogs. Liz visited Santa Fe over 20 years ago and knew she would move to New Mexico one day, and thought Raton would be nice to live in.
Needing some elbow room, Liz drove here and purchased an acre of land.
“We’ve been happy, and the dogs watch the deer, cows, and chickens go by. There’s a guy on horseback down the street, and I think my dog Diesel thinks [the horse] is the biggest dog he’s ever seen,” she said.
“As someone who isn’t from [Raton], I’m impressed with the hard working people here.”
She hopes the book and its photographs show readers that those who work with animals aren’t playing with cats and dogs all day, but behind the scenes, there’s an emotional roller coaster the veterinarian staff go through day-to-day.
Six months after moving to Raton, her dog Dax became ill in the middle of the night. This gave her an opportunity to think about her next chapter in life, which would lead her to completing a lifelong dream.
Liz grew up in the 1970s on the shores of Lake Michigan in Waukegan, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago. As you can imagine, living in Raton, New Mexico is culturally different and brings out her Midwestern sense of humor. In other words, as she says, “Cows are huge!”
Liz has held a camera in her hand since the age of 15, and has always considered herself a photographer. Following in the footsteps of her 21-year-old best friend who worked as a local newspaper photographer, Liz discovered her love for being behind the camera.
“A lot of people say a camera is a passport because I can go over here and here, but to me it’s like a shield [and I could hide behind it],” she explained. “I’m an introvert, and to me, it allows you to weave in and out life, and meet new people.”
Liz always thought writing a book about RV people would be cool, but it is hard to get a good interview with travelers staying overnight and then leaving at six o’ clock in the morning.
“All of a sudden, I had this idea pop into my head. It wasn’t from me, it was from God,” she said.
“I had it all figured out in about 20 minutes and I thought to myself, ‘I gotta call Dr. Smith in the morning for Dax anyway. He’s a good vet, a nice guy, and well, I’m just going to ask.’”
Remembering her late parents’ philosphy that you don’t get anything in life if you don’t ask, Liz spoke into the late night air, “Okay, mom, I’ll go ask.”
With permission to follow and document Dr. Smith’s daily life, Liz was able to capture life, death, and everything in between. Everyday was like going to a candy store. “Even the tough days were a blessing and an honor to be a part of,” Liz reiterates.
Photos by Liz Boomer
Some of her favorite series of shots are of the calf cesarean, which the owner didn’t know whether the calf was alive or not inside the heifer.
“There’s things that pop out in photography and then there’s this amazing little thing (calf) on the ground looking up at me, and I’m like, ‘I’m not your mommy,’” said Liz.
Dr. Smith would call Liz at any hour of the night to capture a live birth of a foal. In fact, she named her production company after calf 906, which was born the first week she began the project. Readers can follow 906’s journey throughout the book, as well.
Dr. Davis and Dr. Smith working together (photos by Liz Boomer)
“[Also], it was fun to see Dr. Jaclyn Davis, a fresh out of veterinarian school, and Dr. Smith, an old school vet, working together and sharing information,” she said. “He was instilling wisdom and she was sharing the new medications and [latest] surgical techniques.”
What made “Following Truman” happen was Liz’s claim that she and Dr. Smith trusted each other throughout the process, and she was able to be very honest with him.
“I told him I don’t know anything about ‘ines’ -- feline, equine, and bovine. I need him to protect me and tell me when it’s okay and not okay [to photograph].”
“To hang out with Doc (Dr. Smith) and see the things most people don’t get to see, and not have a stronger faith, I think instilled in me the deep and painful emotional connections you can see in the book.”
As a result, family members cried and complimented her book because their entire life and family, as well as grandparents and great grandparents, are fully represented within the black and white shots.
“Dr. Smith sees it as a memory book. He even wrote a letter in the book to his great grandkids he will never get to meet,” finalized Liz.
Front Cover of "Following Truman"
The experience was a dream that 16-year-old Liz always wanted to accomplish in her life.
“It’s never too late to live a dream and try something. When God says it is time, it just happens,” she recalled.
“To me, I felt I did my job and I was right to do this book. The whole thing was such an honor.”
“Following Truman” is available for purchase at Mesa Vista Veterinary Hospital. You can also contact Liz directly for a copy of the book at (575) 740-1749.