Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground

By Randolph Lewis | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FIVE
Ethics

“Certain taboos govern storytelling. Winter stories are
not told out of season, because to do so risks waking
sleeping deities — lightning, snakes, bears — who must
not be disturbed from their sleep.”

GLORIA j. EMERSON, Navajo poet, At the Hems of
the Lowest Clouds

Today, few people accept the crude principles that guided image making almost a century ago. In 1907, in response to the German government’s attempts to prohibit “the photographing of any person or his property without his express permission,” an American editorialist writing in The Independent fumed that such restrictions were ill-conceived and probably un-American: “As regards photography in public it may be laid as a fundamental principle that one has a right to photograph anything that he has a right to look at.”1

Of course, Navajo people have borne the brunt of such thinking since the earliest days of American photography. For more than a century, they have been subjected to an intrusive gaze from tourists and other visitors who anthropologist James Faris describes at length in Navajo and Photography. In the wake of the critiques of Faris and other scholars who have explored the ethics of imagemaking in relation to Native peoples, the situation has changed a great deal, at least in the academy — and nowadays few scholars would defend the unfettered right to capture images of ordinary human beings. Even if the issue of ethics in documentary filmmaking “remains at the periphery” of scholarly discourse, as film scholar Brian Winston noted a few years ago, the discussion has moved beyond the point where cameras can be thrust at anybody

-105-

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Navajo Talking Picture: Cinema on Native Ground
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Indicenous Films ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Illustrations viii
  • Acknowledgments ix
  • Series Editor’s Introduction xiii
  • Introduction xvii
  • Chapter One- A Brief History of Celluloid Navajos 1
  • Chapter Two- Navajo Filmmaker 49
  • Chapter Three- Reaction 72
  • Chapter Four- Intent 88
  • Chapter Five- Ethics 105
  • Chapter Six- Native Ground 124
  • Chapter Seven- Final Thoughts 161
  • Navajo Talking Picture Production and Distribution Information 175
  • Notes 177
  • Further Reading 209
  • Index 211
  • In the Indicenous Films Series 216
  • Other Works by Randolph Lewis 217
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