Photography Exhibit of Life, Land and Culture of Canyon de Chelly


“Hands” by Charles Winters


Las Vegas, N.M. – Highlands University presents the photography exhibition Crossing Between Worlds: Life, Land, and the Culture of Canyon de Chelly.

The exhibition of Charles Winters’ photographs continues through Dec. 11 in the Kennedy Alumni Hall, 905 University Ave., with an artist and curator reception Nov. 23 from 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.

“This exhibit of engaging black and white photographs tells the story of Navajo life in the magnificent landscape of the Four Corners region,” said Jeanne Simonelli, an applied cultural anthropologist and the exhibit curator. “Charles Winters explores the rich heritage of the Diné – the Navajo people – and the confluence of tradition and modernity.”

The exhibit is based on Simonelli’s 1997 book, Crossing Between Worlds: the Navajo of Canyon de Chelly. Winters is a photographer and cinematographer specializing in anthropology, nature and the environment. His work has been widely exhibited in the United States and internationally.

The 48 photographs in the exhibit span 24 years. It is a collaboration between Winters, Simonelli and Lupita McClanahan, a Navajo woman from Canyon de Chelly. The exhibit includes sacred lands, Diné people ranging from elders to babies, and scenes of every day life such as weavers at work, sheep shearing, and children learning to rope.

Highlands University freshmen in the learning community called “The Spice of Life” hung the photography exhibit. Cultural anthropology professor Orit Tamir and psychology faculty Casey Applegate-Aguilar taught the learning community, which explored diversity at the sociocultural and individual level.

Tamir taught the introduction to sociocultural anthropology course while Applegate-Aguilar taught the psychology and society course.

Learning communities are linked courses that allow students to explore a theme from multiple perspectives while also forming meaningful relationships with their peers, fostering a sense of belonging that promotes student success. For fall semester, all 300 Highlands University freshmen participated in 16 learning communities that also included a freshman forum course.

“My goal is to teach the students through anthropology to appreciate ‘otherness’ – such as other cultures, skin colors, languages and sexual orientations,” said Tamir, whose primary research interest is the Navajo culture and people. “This is a powerful exhibit that visually depicts the Navajo during the process of cultural change. My students are very engaged in this photography exhibit. It is an excellent teaching tool and community project.”

Tamir and Simonelli, longtime professional colleagues, made the 1,000-mile round trip journey to Bisbee, Arizona to collect the exhibit photos and haul them back to Las Vegas.

“In the psychology and society course we’re looking at different psychological theories and concepts through a multicultural lens, and we focused a lot on Native American culture,” said Applegate-Aguilar, who is also the academic enrichment coordinator at Highlands and coordinates the learning communities. “In this learning community we are seeing our students grow in their ability to grapple with complex multicultural ideas.”

Miranda Andrego, 18, is one of the 22 freshmen in the “Spice of Life” learning community. She is an early childhood education major.

“When I started interacting with people in my learning community, I realized how much this behavioral science curriculum is related to the world as a whole, and how it can help explain people’s behavior from childhood to adulthood,” Andrego said. “I’m already learning to better understand children’s psychological and cultural influences.”

Andrego said she enjoyed bonding with the other students in her learning community, which came into play when they hung the exhibit.

“We were able to work together and communicate well as a team when we unpacked the exhibit one day and hung it the next day, keeping it in numerical order. The images in this exhibit are beautiful and captivating. I learned that so much effort goes into the traditional daily life of Navajo people, from cooking over a fire to weaving a stunning rug,” Andrego said.