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PERSPECTIVES ON TAOS PUEBLO

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Publication: Journal Santa Fe Section; Date: Sep 10, 2010; Section: Gallery Guide; Page: S8

PERSPECTIVES ON TAOS PUEBLO Collection of historical photographs offers multiple narratives Art Issues MALIN WILSON-POWELL For the Journal

The Harwood Museum of Art has received an extraordinary gift of 39 historical photographs of Taos Pueblo by 18 photographers. Dating from 1878 through 1941, these photographs offer multiple, complex narratives from the perspective of cultural geography. On view are a panoply of 19th century photographic technical innovations, and examples of shifts in outsider/insider attitudes. Often small in format, these photographs are grand in ambition and approach. Their small scale easily transports us out of our media-saturated world where we are bombarded by huge billboard images and ever-larger screens. Instead of assaulting us, many of these crisply detailed visual documents serve as magical vehicles for traveling through time, as does a visit to the pueblo itself. The multistoried adobe buildings at Taos Pueblo have been continuously inhabited for over 1,000 years, and Taos is the only living Native American community designated both a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and a National Historic Landmark. Completely “off the grid,” with no electricity or satellite reception, these earthen buildings are among the most photographed in North America, if not the world. Today, families still use their dwellings in this ancient village during ceremonial observances. It is an inordinately quiet place, unless there is a ceremonial dance or it is San Geronimo Feast Day (Sept. 29), when the air sparkles, the drum beats, free-range dogs “ouff,” clowns yip, and visitors converse or bargain over feathers and moccasins. Breezes carry autumn smells of wood smoke and the riffling sounds of the Rio Pueblo (Red Willow Creek), which flows between North House (Hlauuma) and South House (Hlaukwima). The river remains the major source of the pueblo’s fresh water and the tribe controls its entire watershed since the U.S. government returned the headwaters at Blue Lake (Ba Whyea) in 1970. A place called the Sacred Grove upstream from the buildings marks the location where the flowing waters of its sacred mountain lake are linked to Taos village. There are 12 vintage photographs on view by the great 19th century expeditionary photographer William Henry Jackson (1843-1942), and five of them are thoroughly romantic images of “The Sacred Grove” in 1881. In “Taos from the Grove” there appear to be 13 figures — Jackson, his crew and Pueblo men — sitting for the camera in the dappled light of their campsite, under the bowers of arching cottonwoods. From the camera’s point of view, you can see the magnificent North House glowing in the distance downstream, as if it is Shangri-La. Sacred Grove is now in a restricted area that has been off-limits to visitors for decades. Since the early 1980s the pueblo has gotten progressively stricter about prohibiting images of dances and kivas. Current visitors and amateur shutterbugs must stay within a clearly delineated area — primarily the roads, public shops, church and plaza area. Those who don’t register cameras and cell phones risk their confiscation, or on San Geronimo Day, the risk of having their equipment pitched into the river by koshare (clowns). There is a terrific early panoramic photograph (circa 1905) of this feast day by Sam Beaudry, a photographer about whom little is known. A panoramic photograph is a process similar to turning the head from side to side so the successive exposures on this horizontal print encompass a significantly wider vision than a stationary human viewscape. Beaudry captured the bowl of the mountains; the river valley; Sacred Grove; both the North and South Houses; and the plaza filled with neighboring tribes, and their Calistoga wagons and horses; as well as the ritual climbing pole. The “Taos Pueblo Photographs” exhibition not only shows us places we can never go and gatherings that will never occur again, but we see them through period minds, eyes and methods. There are browntinged albumen (egg white) prints, cyanotypes, chromolithographs, and photochrome stereo cards (with spectacles for 3-D viewing). Considering that the camera was invented in 1839, it is astonishing that by the late 1870s wooden wagons bearing bulky equipment and multiple types of cameras — including mammoth, stereo and panorama models — along with people and provisions, were rolling into places as remote as Taos Pueblo. Despite the arduousness of such adventures, insatiable human curiosity about what was over the next range of mountains, and across the ocean or desert, brought men working for government surveys or international businesses. For the curious, exhibition pamphlets are loaded with fascinating supplementary information. Who knew that during the peak years of the one-penny postcard in the 1890s, the Detroit Photographic Company would market 7 million photochrome postcards of up to 30,000 views? Or that during Jackson’s nine years with the Hayden Geographical Survey, he produced the core of 10,000 negatives he would sell in 1897? Ernest Knee’s (1907-1982) “Pueblo Church” of 1941 feels like a tectonic shift into modernity. The 19th century sensibility of ethnographic and picturesque images of dramatic scenery populated by colorful and primitive inhabitants has been superseded by a formal study of light and shadow on the simple, architectonic planes of the newly built adobe structure. Knee also used the gelatin silver process that resulted in prints that were more stable, easier to produce, and did not fade like the methods that dominated photography from the 1850s to the 1900s. After 1900, smaller film formats and smaller cameras opened photography to a vast amateur market and marked the “close of the golden age of American photography of the West.” The donor responsible for this grand gift is photographer and scholar Gus Foster, who purchased this collection of images one by one over 15 years. Foster is a well-known panoramic photographer who arrived in Taos in 1975, after working as a curator at the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts. He currently serves as vice chair on the governing board of the Harwood during its major gallery and auditorium expansion, which is due to open to the community on Dec. 11. If you go WHAT: Taos Pueblo Photographs WHERE: Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux St., Taos WHEN: Through Sept. 26. HOURS: Monday through Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. COST: $8 adults; $7 seniors/students CONTACT: 575-758-9826 or www.harwoodmuseum. org

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PERSPECTIVES ON TAOS PUEBLO

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COURTESY HARWOOD MUSEUM OF ART “Los Pueblos de Taos” is an 1878 albumen print by photographer B.H. Gurnsey.

Card No. 729 from “The Pueblos of New Mexico,” c. 1900, a series of color stereo view cards produced by the Keystone View Company.

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PERSPECTIVES ON TAOS PUEBLO

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“Pueblo Church” is a 1941 silver gelatin photograph of the Taos Pueblo church by Ernest Knee.

“Mudding the Church” is a 1941 silver gelatin photograph of the Taos Pueblo Church by Ernest Knee.

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Taos Pueblo Photographs at Harwood