Helen Post (1907-1978) was a twentieth century American photographer, whose images of the Navajo offer sensitive insight into the lives of individuals residing on the reservation from 1938-1942. An employee at the time for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Post traveled to the West on numerous excursions, each time gaining perspective and understanding into the intricacies of Native life. Her ability to portray the Navajo in unguarded and intimate moments stands as a significant contribution to discourse on visual records of American Indians. Examining Post's work provides an opportunity to not only reexamine her work, which has largely been overlooked, but also acknowledge misrepresented facets of the Navajo. Unlike other well-known white photographers working prior to and concurrent with Post, she avoided portraying her sitters in the common tropes, instead choosing to humanize the Navajo. Theoretically this examination utilizes Post-colonial theory in order to better understand Post's position as both outsider and friend to her sitters. It also explores the social interactions and cultural differences between photographer and subject. She emphasized rather than neglected the many complexities evident among the Navajo in the late 1930s to early 1940s. Post documented the effects of crucial reform policies and by so doing comprised a poignant collection of images. In her photographs of the Navajo, one sees a celebration of character and emotion, underscored by the simplicity of Post's thoughtful compositions. As stated by John Collier, Sr., Post's employer and former commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Post was one who, "willed above all that the Indian spirit... should live on."



College and Department

Humanities; Comparative Arts and Letters



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photograph, Navajo, reform, vulnerability, portrait



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