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Book Report

NAVAJO NATION 1950

Spring 2015

1. What is your name?

Jonathan B. Wittenberg

2. What is the title of your new book?

Navajo Nation 1950: Traditional Life in Photographs.

3. When was the book published and by whom?

2006. Glitterati Incorporated.

4. What other books have you authored?

None.

5. What section should this new book be shelved under?

Ethnology.

6. What is the book about? What is its plot, focus, or subject?

The photographs presented in Navajo Nation 1950 celebrate the drama and splendor of the traditional Navajo people and of the dramatic desert on which they endure. During the summers of 1951, 1952, and 1953, I camped out in the “Big Rez,” got dusty, faded into the background, met people, and accepted what came my way. My intent had been to camp out and enjoy the dramatic desert scenery, but I soon realized that the people were as much a part of the desert as trees and rocks. Like many before me, I was entranced by the Navajo. I, a Brooklyn born city boy, was curiously at ease among the Navajo even though we shared no common language. The Navajo penchant for the ludicrous fit nicely with the distorted logic of the Yiddish jokes I grew up with. We could swap yokes.

7. How did this book come about?

The series of images came about by fortunate happenstance. In 1950, the traditional Navajo way of life based on the horse and on desert agriculture was coming to an end, undermined by the advent of the pick-up truck and the necessity for a cash economy to support that truck. The people asked me to make a photographic record of their vanishing traditional way of life to teach about it to people of the surrounding “Anglo” culture. To this end, they gladly posed for photographs, which they otherwise would not have done. Fifty years later, my busy professional life slowed down and the book was published.

8. What was the hardest thing for you about writing/creating this book?

Nothing. It was fun.

9. What was the easiest thing for you about writing/creating this book?

Working with splendid collaborators: my daughter, Rebecca Linden, who goaded me into action; Linda E. McCausland, who made glorious silver-gelatin prints from my old negatives; Geoffrey I. Brown, who wrote the foreword; and Marta Hallett, who did a bang up job at producing the book.

10. Who are some of the authors (or artists) you admire that have inspired you?

American writers of whom I shall name only Mark Twain and among photographers eg. Timothy Sullivan, Ansel Adams, and (seldom thought of as a photographer) Clyde Kluckhohn.

11. If it were entirely up to you, what would the film adaptation of your book look like?

A film made by a Navajo photographer. There are several American Indian photographers splendidly recording current life; I know of none interested in the deep past.

12. What are you working on now?

I am 91 and, when not diverted by my grandchildren, am slowly writing two scientific papers.

Jonathan B. Wittenberg has compiled his photographs and notes, savoring the days when he was able to incorporate himself into the fabric of the everyday life of one of America”s most important cultures. Wittenberg, then a student of biochemistry, lived among the Navajo, who accepted him into their lives and allowed him to participate in their traditional activities.

LINKS:

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Questions by PMc Magazine

Photography by Jonathan B. Wittenberg & Courtesy of Glitterati Incorporated

Design by Francesca Rimi

Caption:

Navajo Nation 1950: Traditional Life in Photographs by Jonathan B. Wittenberg, published by Glitterati Incorporated, http://glitteratiincorporated.com

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