Each time Navajo photographer Don James saw professional portraits of his tribe, he sighed—not in reverence, but in hopelessness.
For the glossy prints, mostly depicting ceremonies and cultural icons, failed to capture the daily life of the Navajo people.
So he began his project, a yearlong journey into the Navajo Reservation, a space occupying parts of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah, to tell the real stories of Navajo Nation. Equipped with only his truck, sleeping bag, camera, and a few changes of clothes, James set off on what would become a life- changing experience.
His final work is presented in his book One Nation, One Year, and each colorful photo is accompanied with a short explanation about the subject, and the day and time at which it was taken. The photos are arranged in chronological order, from February 8, 2008, the beginning of his trip, to February 4, 2009, the day he left the reservation. The official book release party took place last night at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, and there’ll be another at the Navajo Nation Museum in Window Rock, Ariz., on July 13, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. The book is available at major bookstores.
Determined to gain that insider’s perspective, the Albuquerque resident put himself on a $100 per week budget—which would cover food, lodging and gas. He hitchhiked around the reservation and spent nights with his subjects. Though most people welcomed his project, a few did not. As James told it at the book opening, he approached his 73-year-old grandmother for a picture. She was shearing her sheep to sell the wool at the market. Instead of praising his project, she became annoyed and huffily demanded that he put the camera down and come and help her with the sheep. She later cried with joy when she saw her picture in his book.