Capturing Native New Mexico

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New Mexico’s early photographers faced seemingly insurmountable obstacles: the lack of readily available equipment and supplies, the length of time it took to get supplies over the Santa Fe Trail, and the occasions that supplies were lost to marauding Indians and bandits en route to Santa Fe. It was also difficult to develop glass negatives in tents on the open range. Not to mention the resistance that they encountered from the Native Americans, whom they desperately wanted to capture on film. But despite all of these hardships, the breathtaking mountain vistas and the natural light that changed in hue by the hour were well worth all they endured.

From Wisconsin to New Mexico

Ben Wittick had a special knack for befriending the different Indian tribes of New Mexico. He operated a makeshift photograph gallery in New Mexico between 1880 and 1890. He set up photograph galleries in Gallup, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Ft. Wingate, where the Navajo, Apache, and Zuni tribes resided. Wittick became the first outsider allowed to photograph ceremonies.

A Kindred Connection

Ben Wittick had a special knack for befriending the different Indian tribes. He became known for capturing the essence of Native life better than any other photographer of that time. The adventurous photographer befriended the Pueblo people along the Rio Grande and had a special kinship with the Hopi, who allowed him to photograph their religious ceremonies.

Life & Death at Ft. Wingate

Ben Wittick was born in Pennsylvania in 1845. After the Civil War he operated a photography studio in Moline, Illinois. Restless and inquisitive by nature, he left his wife and six children to pursue an opportunity to work for the railroad, where he worked until 1883 before setting off on his own. Wittick set up photographic studios using props and backdrops that delighted his many Native American subjects. In 1903 just outside of Gallup at Ft. Wingate, a Hopi medicine man foretold his demise. Shortly after that prediction Wittick died at Ft. Wingate from a rattlesnake bite.

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