“The eyes of our ancestors have a message”: Studio photographs at fort sumner, New Mexico, 1866

Maureen T. Schwarz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The reactions of Navajo consultants to select portraits of Navajo girls and women taken at Fort Sumner—where 9,000 Navajo were incarcerated from 1863 to 1868— which were shown to them during interviews in 1991, are examined critically within the framework of current theories regarding issues of representation and authenticity. The historical and cultural contexts within which these images were constructed are examined to demonstrate what must be taken into consideration in order for these haunting images to be used effectively as tools by which to educate contemporary Navajo about this devastating period in their collective history. Criticism of the cultural construction of these photographs is undertaken within the frame of several strands of thought, including the nature of United States/Indian relations during the 1860s; oral and written accounts of the period; formal analysis of hand-woven garments; technical aspects of the photographic equipment of the period which influenced the final product; the philosophy of photographic imagery of the time; as well as Navajo views on personhood which hold that as a duplication of an individual, a photographic image is part of a person, a belief which profoundly influences Navajo attitudes towards the photographic encounter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)17-47
Number of pages31
JournalVisual Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Oct 1997
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Anthropology


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