The sunlight of "Spanish America," Charles Lummis wrote in the Western journal Land of Sunshine in 1895, "is as different a thing from sunlight in New York or England as the sky from a second-hand tin pan. It gives (the photographer) cameos of definition, wonders of detail, and a real revelation in antithesis of light and shade, vigorous without being violent."
Attracted by this startling clarity of light and the region's exotic Hispanic and Indian people, the Massachusetts-born Lummis (1859-1928) became the area's greatest popularizer. Indeed, he was the first to call the region "the Southwest," and he tirelessly promoted its unique culture in more than 450 books, translations of Spanish documents, and articles, many written when he was editor of the Los Angeles Times. A man of action as well as words, he served six years as the Los Angeles city librarian, established the Landmarks Club to save the California missions, set up the Sequoya League to fight for Indian rights, and helped found the Southwest Museum for the study of the region's cultural history.
"Lummis in the Pueblos," written by the Southwest Museum's director, Patrick T. Houlihan, and his wife, researcher Betsy E. Houlihan, focuses on the photographic work that this extraordinary man did while living at Isleta Pueblo in New Mexico from 1888 to 1892. Lummis first visited New Mexico on his well-documented "tramp across the continent," from Ohio to California, in 1884-85. Dispirited by a failing marriage and a disabling stroke, he returned there in 1888 and, aided by a new young wife who was fluent in both Spanish and the Pueblo dialect of Tiwa, he established himself at Isleta and began recording tribal folklore and photographing local people and events with his 4x5-inch-view camera.
This book is divided into 15 chapters, each devoted to a different pueblo that Lummis visited. A brief, superficial history of the pueblo is followed by a selection of Lummis' photographic portraits and views of everyday and ceremonial life. The pictures are of more ethnographic than aesthetic interest, but the authors fail to suggest how Lummis' political beliefs and romantic visions of Indian life colored his work, how his photographs compare with those of his contemporaries, or how he used his photographs with his writings to shape popular opinion and knowledge of Southwestern Indian culture.
One can be grateful for the publication of more Lummis pictures, but the Houlihans add little to the biographical record already established by Lummis' children in "Charles F. Lummis: The Man and His West" (1975), and fail to offer the critical assessment of Lummis as an ethnographer and chronicler of Indian life that would make this more than just another source book of historical photographs.
Eschewing all interest in the daily activities that Lummis found so fascinating as photographic material, contemporary Southwestern photographer Marc Gaede deliberately seeks out those remote areas of the Southwestern landscape that betray no trace of man. To a landscape photographer, he writes, "more civilization means less art." This is an oddly old-fashioned notion of landscape photography, or at least one that places Gaede squarely within the tradition represented by Ansel Adams, for whom he once worked. While many younger photographers view marks of man's presence as an integral part of the physical landscape, Gaede takes a more pristine view. When, after an all-day drive, he finds a septic tank sitting in front of a Mexican church he hoped to photograph, he drives away without making a shot. Many of his contemporaries would have relished the irony.
Gaede's new book of photographs is a fine production in every regard. David Lavender's essay, "The Enduring Southwest," is an excellent piece of cultural geography, and Gaede's own introductory comments provide an unusually clear and straightforward account of the photographer's approach to his work. One may or may not agree with his philosophy that permits him to remove "objectionable elements" like trailers or power lines from his compositions. But one cannot dispute that he is an eloquent and persuasive spokesman for the point of view he represents.
The photographs in this book are all handsomely reproduced and carefully chosen. In addition to dramatic pictures of remote wilderness areas, there are photographs of old Navajo and Pueblo habitation sites and a small group of formal portraits, all of people whom Gaede clearly associates with the grand traditions of the old Southwest.
Gaede writes that the New Mexico Lummis once described as "sun, silence, and adobe" is now "freeways, satellite dishes and trailers." But his photographs offer persuasive evidence to the contrary, suggesting that the Southwest remains a distinct region with a unique geography, light and culture of its own, much as Lummis described it a century ago.