Monday, September 21, 2009

Ghost Beads for a Bellagonna

I went up to the Navajo reservation over the weekend. This time of year I'm getting tired of the heat in Tucson and I want to go somewhere that I can find cool weather. I've always enjoyed staying at the Thunderbird Lodge in Chinle, AZ near Canyon de Chelly so I made my way there.

I've been to the Chinle area many times and have lots of photographs of the canyon at various times of year as well as photographs of nearby areas so I was looking to do something different. I enjoy photographing people but find it more difficult than landscapes or wildlife. My main problem is shyness I think, it is difficult to ask a stranger if I can take their portrait. Native Americans are even more difficult because some of them are very sensitive about photography. There are usually a number of venders selling jewelry along the rim of the canyon as well as at White House ruin on the canyon floor. I decided to try to photograph some of the venders in both places. I ended up photographing five Dineh (Navajo) people. I promised to send them the results either by e-mail or prints by ground so I got their names and addresses.

Pearl Joe's daughter had jewelry spread out on a blanket in front of her car at the Tunnel overlook. Pearl sat in the back seat of the car stringing juniper seeds and turquoise beads into necklaces and bracelets. Pearl told me juniper seeds are also called "Ghost Beads" and keep away bad dreams and evil spirits, hang them on your bed post at night and you'll never have a bad dream. I wonder if they work for a Bellagonna (non-Navajo person) like me? I bought a small string of seeds, we'll see. Pearl was a little shy about having her photograph made, she told me people try to make money from her photograph or make a painting from the photograph and sell that. I told her I wasn't doing that and that I was just trying to learn to take better people pictures. She let me make her portrait. (click on the photos for a better size image)

Don Charley is a flutist and not shy at all. At the age of 29, he is trying to make his career playing traditional Dineh flute music. Unlike Pearl Joe, who doesn't use a computer much, Don studied web design in college, has e-mail, a myspace page, and other modern social connections. He was trying to sell CD's of his music and not having too much luck in spite of his long and complex sales pitch. I didn't buy a CD but I did promise to send him a couple of photographs that he could use on his web site with my blessing and that was enough to peak his enthusiasm. In talking to Don and his girlfriend (didn't get her name) I learned that young Dineh have trouble staying in Chinle because there are no jobs around. In particular, the distance to the nearest Wal-Mart was mentioned. The Gallup Wal-Mart is pretty far away and if you can't get a job there, you might have to go all the way to the Wal-Mart in Flagstaff! I photographed Don playing his flute.

A while later I hiked down the trail to White House Ruin and talked to, and photographed, a few venders who were waiting for the tour jeeps to arrive. White House is one of the main stopping points and breaks for the passengers of the half day jeep tours that leave from the Thunderbird Lodge. Delores Sam lamented the fact that the tour goes up Canyon del Muerto first before it comes down Canyon de Chelly so the venders in the more northern canyon get the first crack at the tourists. I very much enjoyed sitting in the cool shade under the cottonwood trees having an interesting conversation in the beautiful canyon.

I'm very slowly learning a few Navajo words and know a handful. I discovered, on this trip, that even the few I've learned, some I've learned wrong! I learned to say "Hello" as "ya-tah-HAY" somewhere, but it is "ya-eh-Teeh" instead. I'm not good with languages.

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