Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Northern Arizona

Grey Mountain, artwork by Chip Thomas

Copyright/Chip Thomas

Chip Thomas, a self-taught photographer and a long-time physician on the Navajo Reservation, has been documenting rural Arizona with his camera for more than a dozen years.

Thomas’ interest in guerrilla and public art sparked during his sabbatical to Brazil earlier this year.

When he returned from the trip, he debated how to introduce street art to an indigenous culture with little tradition in public art.

Since last June — Thomas and a few friends have been wheat-pasting huge, photocopied, printmaking prints and photographs of Navajo iconography. They attached them to old buildings and water tanks.

Now, in quasi-public spaces you can see elders, code talkers, sheep, corn and coyotes. There are images of a wedding, bronc buster, and, even peyote flowers in bloom.

During a recent visit to Flagstaff, photographer Gary O’Brien invited me on a drive to Grey Mountain to see Thomas’ artwork. O'Brien, with the Charlotte Observe, creates amazing panoramic photo composites. (Below, there is a link to his work.)

To see more of Chip Thomas’ photos and Navajo guerilla art:
Bitter Springs: Time lapse: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wRltQIMJ70Q
Gary O’Brien: http://garyobrien.com/

Grey Mountain, Sheep and Photographer Gary O'Brien

Grey Mountain

Wupatki, looking towards the Painted Desert.


Returning to Flagstaff and to NAU feels like coming home. For a few days, I was invited to help with Peter Schwepker's photojournalism classes and their homecoming project. For me, that's a huge honor. Peter has been the heart and soul of NAU's photo-j program. And, without a doubt, he's the reason why I'm a photographer today.

He's the type of professor that will stay up helping his students until the wee hours the morning. He will write his students dozens of letters of recommendation. He believes documentary photojournalism is done with the heart, as much as the eyes. There are many of us grads who are thankful for his efforts.

Highway 89, hills.

Wupatki, brush.

San Francisco Mountains, looking south.

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All images copyright Erika Schultz or The Seattle Times