Don Gray

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Barry Goldwater Photographs, Heard Museum (1994), Phoenix, Arizona

 
 
 Barry Goldwater's black and white photographs of Indians, primarily Navajos, reveal the intensity of their feelings and the hardness of their lives. No one smiles. There may be nothing to smile about, unlike our reflex when photographed, as if eager to hide behind our teeth.
 
 Among many striking studies at the Heard Museum in Phoenix -- and striking people -- "Navajo Chief in a Hogan," 1950's, sits cross-legged as sunlight burns down, perhaps from the smoke-hole above, intensely defining his form in strongly contrasting shards of light and shadow. He leans slightly forward, pain in his face, forearms resting on his knees, hands dangling helplessly before him. His eyes stare into inner space with deep, deep thoughts, perhaps of life and death and the destiny of his people he can little affect.
 
 "Hualapai Scout," 1940's, is a mystic statement of profound dimensions of an old man in worn sweater and flannel shirt, with rough-cut white hair. Strongly illuminated against a black background, there is some kind of powerful communion between the man with his closed eyes and the shepherd's crook he holds before him like a blind man his cane.
 
 Barry Goldwater has been able to enter the people's lives, as if they trusted him enough to let down their guard and be themselves, and he was sensitive and perceptive enough to see what they were willing to give.
 
 A different feeling in the landscape photos is hard to define; something sad, emotionally distant and lonely. Goldwater is involved in the landscapes, yet seemingly withholding bits of himself too sensitive or personal to share.
 
 But the drama and beauty of Arizona weather and light are moodily captured in three color photographs, "Rain Storm Over Monument Valley," 1968, "Lightning Strike, Monument Valley," 1967, and the misty, mysterious "Praying Monk at Sunrise, Camelback Mountain," 1966.
 
 There is great photographic and emotional strength in the black and white, monumental "Navajo Pony Near Tonalea," late 1930's, and the jaggedly expressive "Shadows Against Red Rocks," 1971, and "Redbird Pass on the Rainbow Trail," 1945, with ancient, gnarly foreground slabs of rock forming a gunsight "V', as if to target sunlit, bluffy-rocks beyond ... both in color.
 
 There is an authenticity in all of Barry Goldwater's photographs. We feel his responsiveness to the land and its native people, filtered through the consciousness and camera lens of a public figure with a very private, very personal point of view.
 
Copyright by Don Gray
  

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