Hadley Jensen’s research addresses the intersections between art, anthropology, and material culture. She is currently a doctoral candidate at Bard Graduate Center in New York, and she holds a master’s degree in Design History & Material Culture. Her dissertation project explores the visualization of craft in the American Southwest through various modes and media of representation, with a focus on Navajo weavers and the ‘photography of making.’
Historic Photographs of Navajo Weaving (1875-1945)
In applying to the Peter E. Palmquist Memorial Fund in 2012, I proposed to conduct archival research for my master’s thesis at Bard Graduate Center, which examined historic photographs of Navajo weaving (1875-1945). My work explored how Navajo weavers were portrayed and how these depictions created iconic visualizations of Native life in the region, which contributed to the marketing of Indian crafts. Although there is a vast literature on Navajo weaving and photographs of the Navajo, there has not been an in-depth analysis of the relationship between the two. As a result, I carefully selected three case studies to highlight Western American photographers who have made significant contributions to Navajo photography, and whose work warrants further scholarship. Through comparative analysis, I examined the work of Dane Coolidge, Benjamin Wittick, and Laura Adams Armer, each of whom approached the subject with different backgrounds and interests in image production. In considering a broad temporal range, I was also interested in exploring how changes in the medium (and the shift to 35mm) affected the ways in which the subject was represented.
The support from the Palmquist Fund was integral to the completion of my master’s thesis, which has evolved into my doctoral dissertation, Shaped by the Camera: Navajo Weavers and the Photography of Making in the American Southwest, 1880-1945 (to be completed in Spring 2018). This project investigates the visualization of craft in the American Southwest through various modes and media of representation, with special reference to Navajo weavers and the ‘photography of making.’ Building upon a critical discourse on the representation of Native artistic labor, one of the key aims of this study is to examine the use of weaving as a common visual trope, and a frequent subject of photography, that circulated in various kinds of cultural venues—from regional tourism promotion and artistic modernism to anthropological surveys and salvage ethnography. A focus on such photographic mediation will deepen our understanding of how Navajo weavers and their crafts came to be such prominent icons of the Southwest.
Since 2013 I have presented various iterations of this research at several conferences, including the Native American Art Studies Association, the American Anthropological Association, and the Smithsonian Institution’s Summer Institute in Museum Anthropology. In addition, I have continued my research on Laura Adams Armer (1874-1963), a pictorialist photographer, painter and author, who documented important aspects of Navajo and Hopi life at the turn of the century. With funding from the Peter Palmquist Fund, I was able to travel to Albuquerque to do research. I focused on Armer’s contributions to Western American photography, and expanded upon research that Peter Palmquist began in 1996. At the time, he published a series of online articles about women artists of the American West, and included an influential essay on Armer. As I began to conduct preliminary thesis research several years ago, I stumbled upon this and became fascinated by her life and her work among the Navajo. As a result, I hope to pick up where Palmquist left off by continuing original archival research on Armer, which will contribute to our understanding of an important and overlooked photographer.