"Jonathan B. Wittenberg's great gallery of Navajo Country photographs took me back to the way it was on the "Big Rez" when I was just back from World War II… This is a beautiful and valuable book."
Tony Hillerman, author, The Joe Leaphorn Series Novels
More than fifty years ago, a young student of biochemistry and physics took his bulky, twin-lens reflex camera on a journey through the Dinetah, the land of the Navajo people. He entered with gifts-quartz crystals, abalone shells, and two bags of oranges-and he left with an invaluable photographic record of a culture.
Navajo Nation 1950 is Jonathan Wittenberg's photographic presentation of the time he spent on the "Rez," where a generous people revealed to him the values and customs of their everyday lives. Despite having no experience with professional photography, Wittenberg employed his patience, thoughtfulness, and insatiable curiosity to produce a remarkably honest and surprisingly gorgeous collection of black and white photographs. From stark, regal desert landscapes to compelling portraits of weavers, dancers, and medicine men, the land of the Dine people is revealed with thoughtful poignancy.
With an historical perspective provided in a Foreword by Navajo Nation Museum Director Geoffrey I. Brown and an exhaustive introduction by the author/photographer himself, Navajo Nation 1950 is as informative as it is visually stunning. The scenes and events described in the photographer's essay are more than just stories; in fact, they are more important now than ever, in that Wittenberg is the only non-native photographer who had access to the Navajo Nation people and landsduring the years 1950-1952. Today, access has been limited even further by The People, so some of the landscapes seen here can only be seen through Wittenberg's lens. Now that half a century has passed, the traditions of the Dine have evolved, so that extensive anecdotal and photographic records like this one become invaluable historic documents, as well as a feast for the eyes. No other photographer is in a position to provide us with such privileged glimpses into the Navajo culture of this era, from the dazzling songs and dances of the Enemy Way healing ceremony to the quiet prayers and intricate sand paintings of a traditional Shooting Chant, including ceremonies that have never before been viewed outside of the Dinetah.
As a collection, these photographs form a gorgeous tribute to the Dine. Because Wittenberg's experiences are so artfully rendered, the lines between history, literature, photography, and fine art overlap in this portfolio. Whether viewed as a photographer's stunning print debut or a telling historical document, Navajo Nation 1950 expertly captures the beauty of an ancient culture, letting the spirit of a people shine through the pages with incredible elegance and candor. What began as a student's adventure more than fifty years ago is now a breathtaking, inimitable exposition.