photographers take their place on the other side of the lens
ROCK, AZ - For nearly two centuries, Native Americans have been
the subjects of photographs. But when a prominent Western museum
called Navajo Nation Museum exhibit curator Clarenda Begay and asked
for the names of some Navajo photographers, "the only one I
could think of was Leroy Dejolie," she said.
got Begay thinking. If even Navajos don't know their own photographers,
what hope do they have of getting discovered by the rest of the
approached her boss, museum director Manuelito Wheeler, about hosting
an exhibit of Navajo photographers.
was enthusiastic and he and Begay came up with the idea of a juried
exhibition - one in which awards are given - to let the cream rise
to the top.
result, "Through the Lens: Diné Photographers,"
on display through next March, exceeded their expectations.
photographers from the Four Corners and beyond, amateurs and professionals,
young and elderly - 43 in all - submitted works.
variety of expression is stunning. Some concentrated on documenting
a vanishing way of life. Others wanted to show the tribe's contemporary
landscapes are to be expected in these parts, but there are also
disturbing graphic images like Tucson resident William Wilson's
"Autoimmune Response" series.
appreciate what he's doing, but I don't like to look at them too
long," noted Begay, gazing at a large image of a blood-spattered,
gas-mask-wearing Wilson in front of a flooded field.
Mitchell used her camera to explore subconscious racial responses,
posing two young men - one white and one Native - in an identical
trio of T-shirts.
T-shirt says, "Engine," which looks like a wordplay on
"Injun" on the Native model.
says "Mascot," which, worn by the Native, conjures up
images of the Indian mascots used by some sports teams.
third shirt is printed with the word "Giver," which makes
the mind flash "Indian giver" on the body of the Native
the Anglo model, the shirts "don't make sense," Mitchell
notes in her explanation of the work.
of the amateur works reflect the photographers' day jobs: archeologist
Curtis Yazzie captured an Anasazi ruin bathed in yellow sunlight;
soil technician Wilson Halwood Jr. had his camera handy when a trio
of beautiful horses stuck their heads out of the brush to see what
he was up to.
of the 90 images on display are unposed and naturally lit, but some
artists used a few Photoshop tricks.
Manuelito turned the Statue of Liberty into a Diné woman
and planted the Washington Monument in Crownpoint for a startling
juxtaposition of two iconic Americas.
Tacheney gives her "Embracing the Way of the Medicine Man"
a magical quality by colorizing only the subject's bright red robe
and the turquoise jewelry.
of the works on display are for sale - look for the letters "MS"
on the plaques and inquire at the museum's gift shop. If you can't
afford a photograph, the museum is also offering a screensaver CD
featuring all the photographs and pictures of the artists along
with their contact information.
it will get into the right hands," Begay said mischievously.
this is an exhibit that deserves some time and contemplation. While
it has received good reviews from patrons, Begay most enjoys seeing
the photographers come by with their families.
so proud of what they've done," she said. "It's really
fun to watch them."
photographer Lorita Bigman observes in the comments that accompany
her work, "Only a Diné could capture the true essence
of Navajo life."
is free. Hours are Monday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday,
8 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday closed.
Nov. 1, after Daylight Savings Time ends, the museum will close
at 6 p.m. Tuesday through Friday.
Clarenda Begay, 928-810-8540, or email@example.com.