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THROUGH NAVAJO EYES

A n Exploration in Film Communication and Anthropology


THROUGH
NAVAJO EYES
An Exploration in Film
Communication and Anthropology
xxx
S O L WORTH
JOHN ADAIR

Indiana University Press


Bloomington / London
FIRST PAPERBACK PRINTING I975

Copyright @ 1972 by Indiana University Press


ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopying and recording, or by any infor-
mation storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the
publisher. T h e Association of American University Presses Resolution on Per-
missions constitutes the only exception to this prohibition.
Published in Canada by Fitzhenry 6Whiteside Limited, Don Mills, Ontario
Library of Congress catalog card number: 78-180488
ISBN: 0-253-36016-1 pa. 0-253-36015-3 cl.
MANUFACTURED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
This book is dedicated
to
JACK AND IDAWISHNEPOLSKY
and to
CASEY
Contents

Acknowledgments xi
Introduction 3

PART ONE
CHAPTER IHow Do People Structure Reality Through
Film? Some Problems in Communication,
Anthropology, and Film I1
Some Qgestions About Film
CHAPTER 2 A Look at Film As If It Were a Language 21
CHAPTER 3 The Navajo 31

PART TWO
CHAPTER 4 The Method of Research 42
Participant Observation in Film
Research
Choosing the Community and the
Students
The Community Agrees
CHAPTER 5 The Lives of Some of the Navajo Students 63
CHAPTER 6 Teaching Navajos about Cameras and Film 74
The First Day: Getting Ready
The Second Day: How the Camera
Works
viii ) Contents
The First Shots and the Notion of
Editing
The Developmental Structure of Film
The Practice Films
They Start Filming
Susie and Her Family Get Involved
in Filming
A Visual Record
CHAPTER 7 The Community Attends the World Premiere 128

PART THREE
CHAPTER 8 Analysis 132
The Way We Intend to Analyze Our
Data
CHAPTER 9 Narrative Style 142
Walking
Face Close-ups
CHAPTER I 0Sequencing Film Events 166
“The Horse Has to Come After the
Footprints of the Horse”
CHAPTER I1 Who Can Be an Actor in a Navajo Film 181
CHAPTER I2 “They Handle the Equipment Like Pros” 190
CHAPTER 13 Motion or Eventing 199
The Long Journey and the Origin
Myth
CHAPTER 14 Intrepid Shadows and the Outsider 208
CHAPTER 15 How Groups in Our Society Act When Taught
to Use Movie Cameras (with Richard Chalfen) 228

Previous and Continuing


Socio-Documentary Research
Alternative Expectations
Cross Group Comparisons
Topics and Activities
Contents (ix
Structuring the Image and Struc-
turing Themselves
Topics and Themes
CHAPTER 16 Some Concluding Thoughts 252
APPENDIXA Brief Summary of the Films Made by the
Navajo 263
Bibliography 275
Index 281
Photographic Section follows page 134
Acknowledgments

Although it is usual to say in a section acknowledging the contri-


butions of others that the work reported could not have been
done without the help of many people, in this case it is literally
and exactly so. What we shall be writing about in the following
pages is not only our own work but also that of a group of Navajo
who patiently consented to be our students. They not only
worked throughout a summer making films, which is a difficult
creative task, but they also allowed us to observe, question, and
write about them while they did it. Indeed, they encouraged us.
They felt that producing knowledge about communication, how
people in different cultures make films, was something they
wanted to participate in.
This book, therefore, could not have come about without our
Navajo students, Mr. Mike Anderson, Mrs. Susie Benally, Mr. A1
Clah, Mrs. Alta Kahn, Mr. Johnny Nelson, Miss Mary Jane Tso-
sie, and Miss Maxine Tsosie.
The community of Pine Springs agreed to allow us to live with
them while we were working. We wish we could thank each one
individually, but since they acted as a community to welcome us,
we must thank them as a community for their help and friend-
ship.
Mr. and Mrs. Clarence Birch were the schoolteachers in the
Bureau of Indian Affairs school at Pine Springs. Not only did
they welcome us and help us in every possible way, but Clarence
xii ) Acknowledgments
Birch offered us the school’s dormitories for our sleeping, teach-
ing and work quarters. We used his school as our own and we
want to thank him for allowing it.
Mr. Russell Griswold, the owner of the trading post at Pine
Springs, gave us an office behind the post which we used for
interviews and for our own personal notetaking and conferences.
He was one of the most knowledgeable men in the area about the
community and its members, and he and his family helped us in
ways, both large and small, too many to be enumerated here.
Many other people helped to smooth our way. The Navajo
tribal leaders at Window Rock supported and often encouraged
us when it seemed as if bureaucracy would overcome us. T o all
those, and in particular to Mr. Maurice McCabe and Mr. Ned
Hatathli, our thanks. Mr. Graham Holmes, Navajo area director,
Mr. Walter Olsen, director of the Albuquerque area office, Mr.
Ernest Magnuson, and Mr. Buck Benham, all of the Bureau of
Indian Affairs, gave us invaluable help and support while on the
Navajo reservation.
Our colleagues in anthropology and communication with
whom we discussed our plans were unusually patient and en-
couraging. Some, however, gave their time and experience so
generously that we want to take this opportunity to acknowledge
their help. Ward Goodenough was one of the first anthropolo-
gists to recognize the possible contribution of the bio-documen-
tary method to ethnographic research. H e encouraged our plans
and helped clarify our ideas in discussing the project with us.
When we came to analyze our experience, Dell Hymes proved
one of the intellectual rocks we leaned on most heavily. His
detailed criticism of the first draft of this manuscript enabled us
to correct many unclear passages. Margaret Mead stuck with us
all the way. She helped us to work out many newly-formed ideas
in hours of conversation with her. The day we spent with her
when we returned from the field with the Navajo films, looking
at the films over and over again, was probably the finest lesson
in visual ethnographic method we ever had. Gene Weltfish was
Acknowledgments (xiii
enormously helpful before we went into the field, reviewing
problems of field method with a camera.
Our work was supported by the National Science Foundation
under grants number GS 1038and GS 1759,and by the Annenberg
School of Communications, University of Pennsylvania. Allan
Smith and then Richard Lieban, who were successively head of
the anthropology section of the Foundation, not only helped us
to solve problems of budget and red tape, but became valued
friends with whom we could discuss our findings, research prob-
lems, and plans at any time. Their help and encouragement made
the research much easier. Edward Hall and John Collier, Jr.,
visited us in the field and gave us an opportunity to review our
findings and methods with them. We found these occasions both
helpful and stimulating.
Last but not least, we want to thank George Gerbner, Dean of
the Annenberg School, who allowed one of us, at least, to spend
almost four years talking about nothing but Navajo making mov-
ies. He found space when space was hard to find, he allowed us
to monopolize secretaries when there were almost none to go
around. He made the cameras, projectors, and editing equipment
available whenever they were needed. He criticized and ques-
tioned, with great sensitivity, our papers and the colloquia at
which we first began to formulate our analyses. He was in the
deepest sense a valued colleague. And so was the late Dr. Adan
Treganzo, Chairman of the Department of Anthropology, San
Francisco State College, for the other of us.
Miss Terry Zaroff not only was responsible for typing this
manuscript, but she kept her cool during at least five successive
rewrites. She checked every reference and helped to organize us
so that the work could go on despite teaching, meetings, and
numerous other distractions. She deeply deserves our thanks.
Murdoch Matthew of the Indiana University Press was our
editor. He cut, questioned, rewrote, and made contributions on
almost every page. As with a film, a book is made in the editing
room. Murdoch Matthew is that kind of editor. We thank him.
xiv ) Acknowledgments
We want to say something about Richard Chalfen in these
acknowledgments, but it is difficult to thank someone whom we
consider to be one of us. He started as our graduate assistant in
the field and has continued working in visual communication and
the ethnography of communication. Although his name appears
on only one chapter, we would like to say here that the work
reported in the following pages was done by the three of us.
SOLWORTH
JOHN ADAIR

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Gallup, New Mexico

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