© 2020 History in Santa Fe
Website images courtesy of the Palace of the Governors and La Herencia Photo Archives.
Pueblos of New Mexico 1866-1925 As early as 1851, photographers journeyed along the arduous Santa Fe Trail on horseback and covered wagons in their quest to capture the magnificent vistas on film. In the ever-changing light of New Mexico’s landscape, they photographed the faces of the Pueblo People and helped document their ancient unimaginable world. They became witness to millennia of history.
New Mexico’s first inhabitants are believed to have descended from the Anasazi, the largely nomadic group that settled along the Colorado Plateau around 200 AD. Most likely, drought conditions brought the population centers of the Anasazi villages located in the Four Corners of Colorado, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico to settle along the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico and the Mogollon Rim of Arizona in 1300 AD.
Photographs of the Pueblos of New Mexico dating back to 1866, provided courtesy of the Museum of New Mexico, offer a window into an ancient past that remains vibrant today. Sixty-two images by Edward S. Curtis are featured, as well as photographs by Ben Wittick, Jesse Nusbaum, Adam C. Vroman, Nicolas Brown, T. Harmon Parkhurst, Charles F. Lummis, George C. Bennett, John K. Hillers, Karl Moon and Mathilda Cox Stephenson.
For Pueblo people of the American Southwest the memory of time passed is preserved in the spirit of ancestors, family and the beloved earth mother. Elaborate and carefully crafted stories emerge from this sacred memory and have served as a means for offering future generations insight into the time of emergence and migration, and of the enduring life way that has sustained Pueblo people for millennia. These stories, recounted during the frigid months of winter, are shared among families, clan groups and societies that comprise the larger tribal community. This trained mind and eye, lens if you will, serves as the source for maintenance of cultural values, language, history and envisioning the future.
Fast forward, acknowledging a history fraught with challenging and in some situations, devastating outcomes resulting from contact, both the history and cultural way of life of Native American tribes throughout North America was being documented more formally for the very first time and as a result of both federal government policy and early initiatives of academia and the private sector. It was during this era that a new lens was introduced, one that would capture imagery of daily life, ceremony, people, and place and that would forever change the way western society views native people. This glamorization of ancient cultures, prompted a wave of interest and inquiry in Native American culture, often appropriated and deconstructed for the purpose of personal gain and or encroachment by the federal government.
To the credit of some federal agents, freelance ethnographers, and photographers, imagery captured over several decades, has become important and helpful to tribal communities in their efforts to protect land and resources, revitalize cultural practices, language and arts, and as an added resource for their own future sustainability. Pueblo people have also embraced photography as a means of documenting tribal and personal history. There is a growing interest among Pueblo people in expanding their own lens to ensure that future generations of Pueblo people can reflect positively on their experience and response to western technology and ways of recording their enduring and living history.