In 1950, Columbia University grad student Jonathan Wittenberg took his bulky, twin-lens reflex camera on a journey through the Dinetah, the land of the Navajo people. He visited the ruins of the Anazazi pueblo Betatakin, fell in love with the high desert, and resolved to go back. He visited every summer for the next three years, using photography as the means to connect with The People native to the land.
As Wittenberg remembers, “Photographs for me was a refuge from the intense loneliness of living among people with whom I did not share a language. My Navajo hosts were happy to join forces with me to record and teach their disappearing traditional ways to the Belagaana (American).”
Collected for the first time in Navajo Nation 1950: Traditional Life in Photographs, Wittenberg’s photographs include stark desert landscapes on the reservation, juxtaposed with regal portraits of weavers, dancers, and medicine men. Wittenberg was the only non-native photographer who had access to the Navajo Nation people and lands during the years 1950-1953. Today, access has been limited even further by The People, making Wittenberg’s work even more significant in its rarity.
Jonathan B. Wittenberg is a Professor Emeritus of Physiology and Biophysics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard College and his PhD from Columbia University. His photographs from the era in which he lived with the Navajo people can be found in the permanent collection of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona and the Heard Museum, in Phoenix, Arizona. He and his wife live in the environs of New York City and in Woods Hole, Massachusetts.
Geoffrey I. Brown us the former director of the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo Reservation. Over a period of seven years, he has guided the transformation of a very small institution to a mid-sized one that commands the respect of its mainstream peers. The all-Navajo staff of the museum are his willing teachers, generously sharing their knowledge and culture with their Anglo colleagues. This small crossroad has benefitted both, by implementing aspects of each to serve the Dine and others interested in their culture.
Credit: NAVAJO NATION 1950: TRADITIONAL LIFE BY JONATHAN B. WITTENBERG PUBLISHED BY GLITTERATI INCORPORATED CREDIT LINE From Navajo Nation 1950: Traditional Life by Jonathan B. Wittenberg, © 2006, published by Glitterati Incorporated www.GlitteratiIncorporated.com