Portrait exhibit shows Natives are 'still here,' subjects say

By Shondiin Silversmith
Navajo Times

WINDOW ROCK, Sept. 26, 2013

Text size: A A A

(Courtesy photos – Heidi Laughton)

TOP: Eli and Trina Secody pose in front a teepee on Trina’s grandmother’s land on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico. This photo is included in Heidi Laughton’s “Spirit of the Hawk Eye” photo exhibit.

MIDDLE: Navajo Word of the Day creator Byron Shorty poses for the camerao. The photo was included Heidi Laughton’s “Spirit of the Hawk Eye” photo exhibit, which is now traveling the states.

BOTTOM: Eagle dancers Aledean Joe Nastacio and Raydean Johnson are both a part of the Cellicion Traditional Zuni Dancers dance group that consists of four generations of family dancers.

Heidi Laughton started photographing Native Americans to showcase the uniqueness and beauty of Native American culture. But to her subjects, the photos send the world a very basic message: "We're still here."

The exhibit, "Spirit Hawk Eye: A Tribute to American Native Culture" features portraits of Native people from tribes in New Mexico, Arizona and California.

Laughton lives in Los Angeles, but is originally from England. Her fascination for world cultures has taken her on several projects across the world, from Kenya to China, but this series was closer to home.

"I really wanted to learn about Native culture, and I wanted it to be something that is educational as well as pictorial," Laughton said.

With a background in fine art, portrait and documentary photography, she aimed her photos to be shown in museums as part of an exhibition that could include a lot of other facets of cultures.

Laughton's curiosity about Native culture sprouted from her late grandmother telling her father that his dad was a Native who was stationed in England during the World War II.

"I actually have somehow a little bit of Native blood, so maybe this is a way of me finding out a little bit about my heritage even though I don't know much about it," Laughton said.

Each of the photos was shot using a medium-large format camera depicting members of the Navajo, Ventureno Chumach, Paiute, Iowa, Hopi, Zuni, Comanche, White Mountain Apache and Barbareno Chumash tribes.

The reason Laughton chose to shoot the photos in film is because she feels it offers a quality that digital photography just can't.

"With large formats you almost get a 3D depth to the pictures that you almost can't get with digital, so it was important to me to make the effort to do it on film with a large format camera because you get much better resolution," Laughton added.

Laughton said she's seen a lot of photojournalism stories about the issues facing Native American culture and she didn't want to do that. Rather, she wanted to create something that was positive and celebrates the cultures.

Alongside the photos Laughton included a text box sharing each individual's story because she wanted them to share their own stories.

"I'm not claiming to show everything because that's impossible," Laughton said, adding that the exhibit is just a "little glimpse into Native life and different aspects of Native life."

Laughton said she hopes the photos will lure people into reading the text.

"Pictures get people interested, but I'm hoping through the text it gets people talking," Laughton said.

Eddie Gallegos, Paiute/Shoshone from San Fernando, Calif., posed for Laughton in his traditional dancing attire.

Of Laughton's exhibit Gallegos said, "I thought it was a very beautiful thing, I really liked it."

Gallegos added he's never been a part of a production like that before and he felt it was very professional.

"She's a very nice person, and the way she approached us was very respectful," Gallegos said of Laughton. "I thought she did a really good job showing the different tribes. She did a good job on showing how each person expressed themselves."

Gallegos said the project was not only good because of Laughton's professional manner but also because it showcases Natives.

"It's really important because some people don't even think we exist anymore," he said. "Some of them (say), "Oh there's an Indian! I thought they were all dead.'" "We're still here and we're blessed to still be able to practice our ceremonies which is our right as human beings on this earth," Gallegos said adding that he that Laughton's exhibit demonstrates that.

Sarita McGowan, who is from the Iowa tribe from Claremont, Calif., also posed for Laughton and she said being a part of her exhibit was an honor.

"It's letting people know we still exist," McGowan said. "The cultures never died even though there's been numerous attempts to wipe us out or exterminate the Indian. There's still so many trying to revive our traditions and practice our traditions.

"I think these pictures really show who our people are," McGown added. "There are not a lot of us and it's important to pass that on."

Laughton said she hopes to expand her exhibit by photographing Native tribes across the nation, including Montana and South Dakota.

She recently completed an exhibition of her work at the Talisman Fine Art Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif. on Sept. 18, and she plans to continue showing it as a traveling exhibit. She is currently seeking venues.

To view all the photos showcased in the exhibit visit www.waysoftheworldexhibits.com.

Contact Shondiin Silversmith at 928-871-1138 or ssilversmith@navajotimes.com.