April 1, 2013
Cultures With a Huge Camera,
Hoping for an Even Bigger Impact
Condensed by Native Village
A two-story-high photograph of Joe Yazzie towers over the viewer. Every scar, wrinkle and hint of emotion on his face is magnified.
That face, larger
than life, is the very essence
of a Navajo man caught between
traditional and modern worlds.
“We’re going to start the
exhibit with my portrait of Joe
Yazzie, who is Navajo,”
Manarchy says. “When you walk
into the exhibit, you’ll see
Joe. Your head will be smaller
than his pupil. As you approach,
you will be engulfed by him.”
“You’ll remember this for the rest of your life,” he says.
Manarchy plans to unveil his exhibit, "Vanishing Cultures: An American Portrait," by 2014. This supersize, traveling exhibit --about two-thirds the size of a football field -- is a snapshot of America before some of our most precious and endangered cultures deteriorate further.
“Portraits are powerful,” he
explains, “but they are so much
more powerful with stories. In
America, there are essential
cultures that are vanishing.
The people aren’t vanishing,
but the cultural identification
Take Yazzie, for example. Born near Gallup, New Mexico, he attended boarding schools that forbid him to use his native language. After boarding school, he moved to Chicago, then was drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War.
In the process, Yazzie lost much of his Navajo culture.
“When you leave your
culture, when you’re very young
and you move to the city, then
when you go home, you don’t fit
in,” Yazzie says. “You miss what
you were supposed to be, what
you were supposed to learn from
your parents, your grandparents,
the medicine men.”
“We are losing
our tongue, our songs, our
culture, our heritage,” he
says. “It will not be brought
“The purpose of the project is to go to the home environments of different cultures,” project director Chad Tepley says. “Most of these people won’t travel 10 to 15 miles from their homes in their lifetimes, so it’s really important to get the camera to them.”
His travels will take him to:
To produce such huge snapshots,
Marachy needs a big camera. His
fits snugly inside a semi-trailer
and produces 6 foot tall
negatives. He hopes to compile
“This will be a powerful educational tool,” Tepley says. “It will be a visual social studies class with videos of the cultures. It will be a very powerful way to show children what’s out there.”
Although the exhibit will preserve cultures as they are expressed today, the project does not discount future generations who will continue to celebrate these tradition.
And in the meantime, by its nature, the project is bringing various cultures together.
“I think the conversation
today is more important than
ever about how everyone is
connected,” says Wendy White
Eagle, Ho-Chunk, a project
advisor. “The world is
evolving, not [so] much
vanishing. There are people coming behind
them, and the expression of the
culture might be different, but
the core values might not be.”
Village © Gina Boltz
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