A haunting glimpse of Navajo life is offered in a new photo exhibit starting Sunday at the Art Barn, but they're not documentary photographs - these views are portraits of people who happen to be Navajos.
"So the focus is more on the individual human being," says photographer Bruce Hucko, 60 of whose pictures will be on display through July 1 at the art barn, also called the Finch Lane Gallery, 54 Finch Lane.The exhibit, "A Gesture of Kinship," is part of an ambitious project to help people understand the way Indians relate to Anglo society.
Kim Duffin, assistant director of the Salt Lake City Arts Council, the project's sponsors, said Native American cuisine will be offered at the opening reception from 3 to 6 p.m. During the last part of the reception, 5-6 p.m., Hucko and author Margaret Brady will discuss contemporary Indian lifestyles upstairs in the gallery's loft.
Brady is a humanities scholar who has written a book, Skin Walker Series, about the Navajo Reservation, Duffin said. Hucko will talk about personal experiences during the 10 years he has been teaching at the Montezuma Creek Elementary School, San Juan County, on the Navajo Reservation.
The Polaroid Corp. is cosponsoring a project in which Hucko and photographer John Schaeffer will teach Indian children photography at the Indian Walk In Center. The children will take photos in the urban setting, and these pictures will augment Hucko's exhibit.
At 7 p.m. on June 20, the Arts Council will present a film, "A Weave In Time: A Navajo Family Through Four generations." Following that, a panel of experts will talk about how Indians adapt to Anglo culture.
Hucko said his exhibit will include both color and black and white photos, mostly black and white. "The imagery is from my long association with the people at Montezuma Creek, but it also takes a big step over to Navajo Mountain, where I've been working with the senior citizens," he said.
Some Anglo photographers have trouble getting Navajos to pose. But Hucko hasn't had much difficulty. If he gets a no for an answer, he just moves on to another picture.
Mostly, however, he doesn't get nos. He has been around the Navajos long enough that "I think they know that I'm all right. And they know I do pictures."
Ever since he first went to the reservation in the fall of 1978, he's worn a camera around his neck. The children in his classes were always interested in it, and Hucko launched a successful project to get them cameras and teach them photography.
Exhibits of the Navajo kids' work have won high praise from local and national reviewers.
"While we're out photographing at their homes, I'm also photographing," he said. Some of the pictures in the exhibit are from these forays.
Wherever he goes, to weddings or visiting, Hucko takes his camera. "Quite often I don't use it . . . Because I'm having other kinds of interactions with the people and just visiting, and photo stuff doesn't come up.
"I think I'm perceived as somebody who's a friend, because my destination isn't always taking pictures. I view the friendship as more valuable than the pictures themselves - although I'm a taker of pictures."
Indeed, Hucko's color photos of Colorado Plateau scenery packed in the crowds in recent shows.
In this exhibit, some pictures show people outdoors. "They are an element of the landscape. And there's that interaction with them and the landscape."
Then he has a series of children's portraits shot against a plain black background.
"I've been doing that to see if I brought the kids out of their environment and there was a one-on-one interaction, what the response would be. Would there be a landscape there?"
By their gestures and expressions, their interaction, he feels the landscape came in with them. "There is contact," he said.
A few of the photos are of the landscape itself, which has stories to tell too - a dead golden eagle, an old hogan in the evening, an overturned car with Monument Valley's formations visible.
Hucko said the exhibit is not only a way to display interesting photographs.
"There's always been a need to get more information, to develop more awareness about Native Americans - right? And I saw this as an opportunity to do that. I saw this as more than pictures that hung on the wall."
To Hucko, each image has its story. "But the picture has to stand by itself as a visual image," he said.
Someday, he'd like to publish a book of photos and writing about the Navajos, "the changes I've seen, elements of cultural erosion and cultural enrichment."
Hucko thinks his image-making has improved because the people he knows there are so observant, pointing out things for him to see. He's been looking beyond the surface, not bothering much to document such things as ceremonies.
"These photographs may not help people to understand that culture at all," he said. "They may raise questions about that."
He would like people to help people "respect the fact that there are other realities in this world, that are not our own, that people live by."
Some Navajos see another reality, such things as spirits in the rocks. "These are photographs, and these don't reveal that - but it's there. There are images behind these images, that I think about."
Duffin said the project could not have been completed without the assistance of the University of Utah's Ethnic Studies Program, the Utah Endowment for the Humanities, the Utah Division of Indian Affairs and the American Indian Cultural Foundation.