Photographer Craig Varjabedian is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this portrait/documentary photography. From the project ‘Native Light: Portraits of Native Americans’. For more information on Craig’s new book “Light of the Great Mystery | Native American Portraits” click on any image.
Text By Cindy L. Lane
At first glance, one cannot help but marvel at the portrait photographs by acclaimed photographer Craig Varjabedian. In this collaborative portrait series, titled Native Light, Varjabedian chronicles the culture and self-presentation of contemporary Native Americans. Through this striking beautiful body of work, he skillfully demonstrates the essence of each Native American participant’s individuality, while simultaneously capturing their grace, spirit, and resilience.
“The greatest impact of this project lies in the collaborative approach to each photo—partnering subject and the artist—that shifts that power paradigm of the traditional visual representation of Native American people in American art, updating outmoded ideas about Native cultural identity and representation.”
~Thamu Tsan (The Sunrise), Tewa
Photographed across the American West, men, women, and children are prominently positioned in front of the camera against a simple textured hand-painted backdrop—the focus is appropriately on the participant(s). Most participants are presented in precious regalia and ceremonial attire while others are pictured in traditional garb, adorned with ornate silver and turquoise jewelry. Some wear a delicate display of feathers in their hair while others exhibit a striking bustle of feathers and fringe that extend outward into space. Several accessorize with beaded shell necklaces and leather moccasins whereas a handful opt to drape themselves in the comfort of a wool trading blanket and animal pelts. Take a closer look at the objects and one will find layers of meaning and symbolism—ornamental shells and animal motifs, vibrant patterns, geometric shapes, and intricate beadwork.
The process of creating the photograph is a collaborative one. Participants come to be photographed with a variety of objects, clothing, and regalia—each item bearing with it a history and deep personal significance. During the portrait session, time is planned to get to know the person being photographed. Personal stories and histories are shared and ideas exchanged in hopes that a subject will become more involved in the portrait process and feel at ease in front of the camera. This is part of the driving force behind Native Light—to visually capture the beauty of a subject’s individuality, and in the process, arrive at a deeper understanding of who they are, a sense of their inner self—to momentarily catch a glimpse of their amazing spirit.
The ability to portray the essence of his subject is nothing new to Varjabedian. He has an innate ability to make photographs that uncover the unique and quintessential in people and places and share them with an eager audience. This, in part, motivates the Native Light Photo Collaboration project—to function as a visual narrative that encourages learning and sparks a deeper dialog about contemporary Native America and all indigenous people around the world. These photographs provide insight into the past, but also provide knowledge and education for the future. They are chronicles of tribal representation and tradition. They portray the beauty of a proud and resilient people.
Varjabedian continues his work to present the beauty of Native American people at a time when the United States seems culturally divided. Upon the completion of Native Light, a comprehensive book of images as well as a traveling museum exhibition will follow.
Photographs Copyright ©Craig Varjabedian and the Native Light Photo Collaboration
Book By Craig Varjabedian
Book By Craig Varjabedian
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