Navajo photographer Priscilla Tacheney’s images are strong and finely orchestrated. And they are full of meaning.
IIn one of Navajo photographer Priscilla Tacheney’s award-winning images, a coyote with a the deer skin at his feet is superimposed on a backdrop of mountain ranges and starry skies. In another, a woman stands on the edge of a cliff with the tail of a corn pollen swirl at her fingertips. Graphics and sharp, the images are strong and finely orchestrated. And they are full of meaning.
“As a Navajo, it’s important to me to share my traditional stories and to continue to do so for the people of my culture and for the youth of my tribe,” says Tacheney, who lives in Prescott Valley, Arizona. “We have traditional storytellers who tell stories and do illustrations in books and try to keep our stories alive for the generation behind us, and I also use photography to do that.”
After working as a graphic designer for the Prescott Daily Mail, then for 14 years as a fine art photographer – focusing primarily on landscapes, then portraiture, and sometimes blending the two – Tacheney made the decision to take his photography in a different direction, towards something more conceptual. “I started telling more stories, putting composite photos together to tell a story inspired by traditional Navajo stories and creating something beautiful, like a piece of art,” says Tacheney, who shoots with a Nikon D750. . “My style is more like that of a painter. One of my influences is RC Gorman, a well-known Navajo painter who painted women in a simplistic way. I want to show the beauty of my people.
Every element of his photographs is intentional, a symbolic representation of something more. The one with the coyote, skin, mountains, and stars is a photographic illustration of a Navajo creation story; the Milky Way is the result of the coyote’s impatience with the creators of the Earth, the saints, who carefully placed the stars in the sky, one by one. “But the coyote, he’s in the distance and he’s watching and on the fourth day he got impatient and he decided it was taking too long, so he scooped up the skin in his mouth and threw the pebbles, and c That’s how we have the Milky Way,” she said.
One photo is superimposed on another and manipulated to appear as one. It often takes up to 40 hours from start to finish, as Tacheney blends the colors like a painter would. In the corn-pollen artwork, the photograph of a woman in a red and white blanket standing on the edge of a cliff was taken on the Navajo reservation where she grew up and where she takes many of her landscape photos. . “I had some photos of clouds, and I added corn pollen, and with Photoshop, I swirled the cloud around,” she says. “I evolved to become a photographer who does graphic art. I spend hours trying to work with these images to make it look like I took it that way. My background in graphic design, my knowledge of Photoshop, and my years of training really help me blend my images so they look seamless and authentic.
Yet not everyone understands, at least not at first, she says. “Once someone said, ‘Can you tell me what this is?’ and when I explain to them what that means, it’s instantly ‘Oh my God, I gotta have that piece.’ Once they understand what it means, it’s sold.
Through the lens of Navajo photographer Priscilla Tacheney will be on view until March 31 at the Amerind Museum in Dragoon, Arizona (amerind.org). See his work on his website: squashblossomphotos.com.
Excerpt from our February/March 2022 issue
Photography: (All images) courtesy of Priscilla Tacheney