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Among Unknown Tribes

Among Unknown Tribes
Rediscovering the Photographs of Explorer Carl Lumholtz

Featuring high-quality reproductions of images newly scanned from the original negatives and printed uncropped, this book presents the most complete and beautifully produced catalogue of photographs of the Tarahumara, Huichol, Cora, Tepehuan, Southern Pima, and Tohono O’odham tribes of Mexico and southwest Arizona.

Series: Bill and Alice Wright Photography Endowment

May 2014
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327 pages | 8.25 x 11.75 | 233 photos |

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Internationally renowned as an exciting guide to unknown peoples and places, Norwegian Carl Lumholtz was a Victorian-era explorer, anthropologist, natural scientist, writer, and photographer who worked in Australia, Mexico, and Borneo. His photographs of the Tarahumara, Huichol, Cora, Tepehuan, Southern Pima, and Tohono O’odham tribes of Mexico and southwest Arizona were among the very first taken of these cultures and still provide the best photographic record of them at the turn of the twentieth century. Lumholtz published his photographs in several books, including Unknown Mexico and New Trails in Mexico, but, because photographic publishing was then in its infancy, most of the images were poorly printed, badly cropped, or reworked by “illustrators” using crude techniques.

Among Unknown Tribes presents more than two hundred of Lumholtz’s best photographs—many never before published—from the archives of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo, Norway. The images are newly scanned, most from the original negatives, and printed uncropped, disclosing a wealth of previously hidden detail. Each photograph is fully identified and often amplified by Lumholtz’s own notes and captions. Accompanying the images are essays and photo notes that survey Lumholtz’s career and legacy, as well as what his photographs reveal about the “unknown tribes.” By giving Lumholtz’s photographs the high-quality reproduction they deserve, Among Unknown Tribes honors not only the Norwegian explorer but also the native peoples who continue to struggle for recognition and justice as they actively engage in the traditional customs that Lumholtz recorded.



Bill Broyles

Timeline. Carl Sofus Lumholtz in Brief

Chapter 1. Carl Lumholtz and His Photographs

Ann Christine Eek

Folio One. Photographs from Carl Lumholtz's Unknown Mexico Expedition

Bill Broyles and Phyllis La Farge

Chapter 2. Looking for Lumholtz

Phyllis La Farge

Chapter 3. What Photographs Can Tell Us: Carl Lumholtz and Shaman Rubio

Eugenia Macías Guzmán

Folio Two. Photographs from Carl Lumholtz's New Trails in Mexico Expedition

Bill Broyles and Phyllis La Farge

Chapter 3. New Trails and Entwined Legacies: Carl Lumholtz's Sonoran Desert Photographs

Richard Laugharn

Chapter 4. A Man of Qualities: Lumholtz and the Museum

Phyllis La Farge

Reflections. A Life Among Unknown Tribes

Bill Broyles, Ann Christine Eek, and Phyllis La Farge

Notes for Photographic Plates






Bill Broyles

Tucson, Arizona

Broyles is a research associate at the University of Arizona’s Southwest Center. His previous books include Desert Duty: On the Line with the U.S. Border Patrol, Sunshot: Peril and Wonder in the Gran Desierto, and Our Sonoran Desert.

Ann Christine Eek

Oslo, Norway

Eek is a photo historian, photographer, and digital supervisor in the Department of Documentation at the University of Oslo’s Museum of Cultural History. She has written studies and created exhibitions of the photographs of Roald Amundsen and Carl Lumholtz for her museum, including People Meeting People: Explorer Carl Lumholtz’s Photographs from Mexico 1890–1910.

Phyllis La Farge

New York, New York

La Farge has worked extensively as an editor and author. Her latest book is Painted Walls of Mexico, a vivid photographic look at many aspects of the artfully decorated walls found throughout the country.

Richard Laugharn

Phoenix, Arizona

Laugharn is a photographer who has documented the Pinacate region chronicled by Lumholtz in New Trails in Mexico. His current work involves photographing individual desert plants over time.

Eugenia Macías Guzmán

Mexico City, Mexico

Macías Guzmán is an anthropologist with a special interest in Carl Lumholtz and his work among indigenous people in Mexico. She’s currently part of the curatorial and research team for the Modern Art Museum-INBA in Mexico City.



Bill Broyles

When Carl Lumholtz sprang onto the international lecture and book circuit in the late 1880s, he was praised as an exciting guide to the unknown places and unusual people he had seen. Lumholtz was an explorer, anthropologist, natural scientist, writer, and photographer who visited wild places in Australia, Mexico, Arizona, and Borneo.

It was the age of the Victorian naturalist, when an ambitious and adventurous scholar could bridge several academic subjects and not only discuss anthropology, geology, botany, history, geography, linguistics, and archaeology, but could actually contribute to the general knowledge about a remote region or little-known people through papers, books, photographs, and lectures. Alongside the likes of Roald Amundsen, Ernest Shackleton, and Charles Doughty, Lumholtz was a hero in a golden age of exploration. His popularity endured over the twentieth century as his books were reprinted and translated for wider audiences, but in recent years appreciation of his work has grown and appears stronger than ever. In this book we present a fresh look at his photographic work and explain why it merits a resurgence of attention and enthusiasm.

Lumholtz's last major work was published in 1920, but his books and papers retain a large audience today. His first, Among Cannibals, visually relied upon illustrations by other people, mainly artists who sketched or painted from artifacts, store-bought images, and descriptions that Lumholtz brought back from Australia. His later books, Unknown Mexico, New Trails in Mexico, and Through Central Borneo, were richly illustrated with his photographs, but because photographic publishing was in its infancy, many of his photographs in the first of those books were culled, cropped, retouched, and marginally printed. This has been especially true in subsequent editions of those books, resulting in loss of clarity, information, and aesthetic force. Some images apparently were reworked to focus the scene or to enhance the romantic sense of exotic exploration. Audiences of his day were fascinated by so-called "primitive" people and pristine places, and Lumholtz himself enjoyed living among and studying them. It was an age when sophisticated people enjoyed the fruits of industrialization but expressed a taste for the foreign and exotic, and if they could not travel to such places themselves, they adored those who did. Even then many people sensed that the world was rapidly shrinking and changing forever, and they yearned to learn more.

With rare exceptions, and none printed in English, publishers have been content to present the Lumholtz photos as materials secondary to his research, investigations, and written adventures. We admire other efforts to better show his photographs. Arne Martin Klausen and Arve Sørum's Under tropenes himmel: Den store norske oppdager Carl Lumholtz appeared in Norwegian in 1993 and was translated into Spanish as Bajo el cielo de los trópicos in 2006. Jesús Jáuregui and Mario R. Vázquez's Carl Lumholtz: Montañas, duendes, adivinos . . . was published in 1996. Mexico's Instituto Nacional Indigenista published Carl Lumholtz: Los indios del noroeste in 1982. None of these editions has yet been translated into English, so we present to you a new book, in English, with a fuller range of his photographs, some of them "discovered" since 2000. We also address Lumholtz's role as photographer as well as explorer, ethnologist, and writer.

By showing his work afresh, we provide new information in and about the images themselves, drawing from photographs that have not been previously published, his photographic notes, and other sources. These unpublished photographs include images that were not selected to tell the story, or they were alternate views, blemished negatives, or tattered discards. A number of others, however, are refreshingly new and interesting. Although most of the images used in his books show people, domestic scenes, structures, or utilitarian objects, Lumholtz also took landscape photographs, and we believe that this fact says much about him as an explorer and a naturalist.

We also find renewed appreciation of Lumholtz's value and influence as an ethnographer, cultural narrator, and photographer. In his hands the camera became an indispensable ethnographic tool. In many cases his observations brought attention to particular ceremonies, beliefs, practices, clothing, and other facets of obscure cultures that might have been missed, misunderstood, or even lost to time. Lumholtz was there with notebook and camera in hand. His work is increasingly appreciated for its portrayal of people within their cultures at a pivotal time of rapid and sometimes overwhelming cultural transition imposed by outside forces and interests. In most cases Lumholtz represents the modern world: industrial, cosmopolitan, and globally traveled. But he consciously strove to draw attention to traditional peoples, and he sought out landscapes where their lives could be shown, understood, and shared.

We hope that this book will bring fresh appreciation of peoples featured in his images. His photographs of the Tarahumara, Pima, Tepehuan, Tubar, Cora, Huichol, and Tarascan tribes of Mexico were among the very first taken of these indigenous people and were the best photographic record of their traditional cultures at that time. Lumholtz's observations are still cited in scientific literature about those cultures and larger studies of Mesoamerica, as well as serving as a prop in popular literature, such as Richard Grant's book God's Middle Finger, a chronicle of his odyssey into the dangerous Sierra Madre early in the twenty-first century, or Christopher McDougall's Born to Run, a search for the secrets of Tarahumara runners. Too, we must remember that although a few of these cultures have dwindled over time or blended with neighboring groups through acculturation, others, such as the Huichol and Tarahumara, are robust and actively practicing traditional ways, ceremonies, and artwork that Lumholtz recorded. For example, the Huichol are working with UNESCO to publicize their need to preserve two of their traditional travel routes, one to the ocean and one to their peyote grounds, and to seek World Heritage Site designation for tracts of their traditional lands.

Lumholtz photographed a number of Tohono O'odham of southwestern Arizona and northwestern Sonora. In 2008 we visited their homeland and were privileged to meet with leaders of the Tohono O'odham Nation's cultural center in Topawa. The center is part archive, part museum, and part research facility, and is staffed by a team of experts on tribal history and culture. Some native peoples resent the fact that outsiders with cameras occasionally take photographs of tribal members without their permission, and we wondered how Lumholtz is perceived on the reservation today. We were quickly put at ease when one person reported that Lumholtz's photo of his grandfather is the only one the family has, and they treasure it dearly. Others reported using his photographs of villages, waterholes, and clothing styles in their own work of studying tribal history and culture and of portraying them in exhibits.

Lumholtz's photographs also have proven useful to numerous scientists. Ecologist Raymond M. Turner selects old landscape photographs for comparison to contemporary images. From these matched photographs repeated over decades of time, Turner and his colleagues are able to observe and deduce information about changes in ecology, climate, and plant populations. Ethnobotanist Richard S. Felger has relied on Lumholtz's texts to catalogue plants that were part of the diet and used in other ways by the native people Lumholtz visited in the Sonoran Desert and Colorado River delta.

Even though his books display photographs or artist plates of pottery, ceremonial masks, implements, and clothing that Lumholtz collected in the field, readers sometimes overlook his anthropological work as a collector of objects and artifacts identified with native cultures. His collection at the American Museum of Natural History includes personal, cultural, and sacred objects from the native people of the Sierra Madre and of Sonora and Arizona. For instance, he not only collected a belt, but also took a photograph of the person wearing it, providing a larger context for the item and reinforcing its provenance with photographic documentation. Lumholtz's observations of the Hia C'ed O'odham in the Sonoran Desert have provided much significant information about their families, genealogies, lifeways, and villages or camps. These have been used by a range of anthropologists and historians, including Fillman Bell, Paul H. Ezell, Julian D. Hayden, Peter Steere, and Robert K. Thomas.

Major collections of Carl Lumholtz's photographs are being organized by two great museums, the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo and the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. Two of our chapter authors--Ann Christine Eek and Phyllis La Farge--have been at the heart of these years-long efforts to find, catalogue, and preserve Lumholtz's many photographs and negatives. Most of the negatives they found were on unstable nitrate film that required scanning of images with the latest technologies, storing the images in computers, listing the images with archive numbers, and collating an array of related letters, field notebooks, and photo logbooks which are gradually now meeting the public eye. Along the way they have unearthed new facts about the contexts of his photographs, the triumphs and travails of the work, and the man himself.

We now know that the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo houses more than 1,400 negatives and prints by Lumholtz from Mexico from 1890 to 1910, Borneo from 1913 to 1917, and India from 1914 to 1915. In one splendid bit of sleuthing, Eek discovered a "missing" box of Lumholtz negatives from his New Trails in Mexico expedition. She expertly shared this exciting discovery in an article, "The Secret of the Cigar Box: Carl Lumholtz and the Photographs from His Sonoran Desert Expedition, 1909–1910," and the museum has 142 images from that trip.

The American Museum of Natural History houses some 2,500 of Lumholtz's nitrate negatives, most of them 5\" \x 7\", about 300 of his 6\" \x 8\" negatives, and a few glass plates. The collection covers his work in North America, but even so, a few published images are not in the collection as either negatives or prints. Now that these are known to be "missing," archivists can specifically look for them. And gauging from Lumholtz's texts and from surprises such as an unattributed Internet art dealer's print (see chapter 4, by Richard Laugharn), which has not been matched in either museum's archive, we surmise that some of his photographs remain outside the flock, and we eagerly await their discovery and recovery. A third collection of 370 photographs from Lumholtz's first expeditions to Mexico, and copied from the American Museum of Natural History collection, is housed at Princeton University Library.

The work by Eek and La Farge in the archives has considerably increased our understanding of Lumholtz's photographic equipment, his own techniques, and his inclusion of other photographers on two of his expeditions. Their assiduous detective work has led to some surprising and satisfying conclusions. We now know more about Lumholtz's overall mission, specific instructions from his clients, and his results--and finally we are seeing the full picture of his photographic range.

Lumholtz the explorer and citizen is worthy of renewed interest. He had style and a noble spirit. With the exception of his first expedition to the Sierra Madre, when he had an entourage of experts and helpers, his expeditions relied on local people, and frequently Lumholtz was on his own. This placed him in some jeopardy, but it also forced him to win the trust of the local people. Because he was a participant-observer, he obtained superior information, and this rapport and access infuse his photographs. He proved that major work could be done by a small party, or even a lone researcher, aided by local people.

Lumholtz himself remains a bit of a riddle. Photographs of him--as a young man heading off to Australia or late in life with a yogi in India--offer only a glimpse of the man who largely remained private in his own writings. He was never an academic scholar, even though he consulted widely with world-renowned experts in various fields and published information still used by scholars today. He taught no college classes, though he lectured widely and read across many disciplines. He was immersed in his work, and although he was a skilled fund-raiser and excellent publicist concerning his books and lectures, we know relatively little about his personal life, private thoughts, close friends, or inner emotions. Yet, he was deeply interested in people, and we can witness this through his photographs, which we bring you in new radiance and detail. We have come to greatly admire and respect him, for he has taught us much, led us to mysterious places, and introduced us to a wealth of people. This book itself was launched by our own separate interests in Lumholtz. The story of how we came to work together will help to illustrate the allure of Lumholtz and the magical world we live in.

In my own life-long study of the American Southwest I grew to greatly admire Lumholtz. One year when I was teaching at a high school in Tucson, Arizona, an editor for the campus yearbook was looking for fresh ways to photograph teachers for a section of the yearbook, and she asked the staff to submit a photo of a historic person they would have liked to be. That image would accompany our own bug-eyed stares into some student photographer's lens. The answers to such requests may reveal more than we at first admit about ourselves, for they offer a glimpse of who we would like to be, usually in disquieting contrast to the person we have actually become. Who would you choose? Over several days I mulled the question, pondering who in my pantheon fit my lifestyle of camping and hiking in the outdoors, and who loved people, especially, and emulated pioneering virtues of being self-reliant, brave, curious, and capable--each virtue fitting an explorer but also being required of humble teachers. Special names leaped to mind: Ernest Shackleton, polar expedition leader; Ibn Battuta, Mideast traveler and scholar; T. E. Lawrence, warrior and scholar; and Carl S. Lumholtz, the hero of our book.

Shackleton was a bit too lofty, I knew I couldn't find a photo of Battuta, and Lawrence was too tragic and enigmatic. Then I thought of home, and someone who had actually visited my town, who knew my favorite landscape, and who was modest and enduring: Lumholtz--he fit the bill. His expeditions at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries were relatively basic affairs to remote, dangerous, unexplored corners of the planet: coastal Australia, the rugged Sierra Madre of Mexico, the jungles of Borneo, and the fierce desert of northwestern Mexico. At times his field crew counted dozens of colleagues and assistants, but he grew more comfortable and pared his entourage down to a few local helpers who translated for him, acted as guides, paddled his boat, or tended his pack stock. He was sufficiently self-reliant to live off the land if necessary, to endure all manner of weather and pests, and to push on when others might hole up, retreat, or break down. His curiosity led him to do more than just gaze at the landscapes; he interviewed, watched, and chronicled local people, and then reported what he learned in a series of books that are still cited for their valuable information. Not for a moment did I think I could have lived his life, but what an admirable life it was.

The first of his books that I bought was Unknown Mexico, reprinted at a relatively inexpensive price. It appealed to me for its peek into primitive cultures that obviously lived without modern comforts, but in Lumholtz's words and pictures I saw fellow humans worth knowing. The second I read was Among Cannibals, a rousing adventure of a man who after a dreary day slogging through swamps and clouds of mosquitoes could still sit in his tent and record exquisite notes. Then I found that Lumholtz had written about my own favorite desert, the Sonoran, and had made a remarkable series of long trips through an exceptionally dry and tough region known as El Pinacate and the Gran Desierto, smaller in scale than Arabia's Empty Quarter but still vast enough to require a week or more to cross. I was home. He met desert residents who had descended from lost tribes and who lived in a land lacking rivers or streams, relying instead on a few springs and rock pools that caught rainwater.

More than that, he won their trust and valued them as people. He also recorded their faces and places with his camera in what has become my favorite book, New Trails in Mexico, breathing life into both. It is not just my favorite of his books, but my favorite book period, for every time I return to it, I find new information, feel the thrill of a memory, or ask myself a new question about the land and its people. One copy, and I must have a dozen, was carried in my backpack over 300 miles and three weeks of tromping afoot as a friend and I followed Lumholtz's route from the village of Sonoyta, Mexico, to the mighty Colorado River.

No longer can I just walk through a wild area and enjoy myself. I must learn something about the region, its plants, its people, its geology, its beauty. And if one is interested in a person and their work, one eventually searches for more. Our minds are restless, thirsty like desert travelers. We prowl archives and read books, ask experts and write inquiries. A visionary editor of a university journal had patiently listened to my request to guest edit a special issue of Journal of the Southwest on Lumholtz's Pinacate country, and he graciously consented. I called friends and experts, and asked them to contribute material. In casting about for missing or unpublished photos by Lumholtz, especially of three historically significant individuals he met on the trip--Alberto Celaya, Juan Caravajales, and Queléle--I blindly launched electronic mails to distant museums.

Fortune struck. One letter went to Norway's Museum of Cultural History, and from Oslo a very nice lady wrote back saying that she was already working on Lumholtz's photographs. She was not only enthusiastic and knowledgeable, but she herself is a photographer of note, Ann Christine Eek. When she said her last name is Eek, meaning "oak tree," I knew we'd be friends. Eventually she wrote an exceedingly fine article for the journal. Her own photographs have been widely exhibited and published, including a long-term documentary series of photographs about Albanians in the Balkans. Her friends have made an acronym of her name and, fittingly, call her ACE. She has been our vital link at the museum she works for and to resources written in Scandinavian languages.

A chain of New York connections involving some very kind people--Madeline Cherney, Kristen Mable, Barbara Mathé, and a visiting Norwegian scholar, Morten Stroksnes, who is writing a biography of Lumholtz--led me to Phyllis La Farge at the American Museum of Natural History, where she was working to organize the Lumholtz collection. It all seemed too good to be true: Lumholtz collections were alive and well, and at that very minute archivists were working on them! And Phyllis herself is a proven writer and editor who also feels at home in Mexico, where Lumholtz took so many of his photographs. Her book Painted Walls of Mexico is a personal favorite, and since she visits other friends in Tucson each year, I've come to enjoy our lunches and discussions about books and travel, and especially about Lumholtz. On behalf of this book, Phyllis has made three trips to Europe, a trip to Mexico, and several trips to Arizona, as well as making sterling progress with the Lumholtz collection of photographs in New York.

And, if that weren't enough, sometimes fortune knocks twice. A stranger, a friend of a friend, arrived at my door one day with a photograph he had purchased from an Internet dealer. Although it was an unattributed photo, I instantly recognized the landscape as "my" Pinacate, and by their hats and mounts, I recognized Lumholtz's trusted men; however, the image is not in New Trails in Mexico, and I had never seen it anywhere in print. Thereby photographer Richard Laugharn (rhymes with "barn") joined our merry band, and we immediately asked Ann Christine and Phyllis if they knew the image. To this day we are still searching not only for this photo but for others. It turns out that Richard has seriously studied photography and has uncanny insight into Lumholtz and his photographs.

Through a set of fortuitous circumstances and the largesse of Dr. Joseph C. Wilder at the University of Arizona's Southwest Center, we all were able to finally meet in person in the fall of 2008, and we traveled to places Lumholtz visited in Arizona and Sonora. Richard knew the area well, but for Phyllis and Ann Christine the Pinacate was a new world, and their enthusiasm was contagious. Among a number of favorite memories of that trip was posing for a group photo standing beside a still-famous ironwood tree where Lumholtz had set his own tripod so many years ago.

Through her work at the museum in New York, in 2009 Phyllis made the acquaintance of a young anthropologist studying in Mexico City. From her doctoral studies she knew Lumholtz's work and its resonance in Mexico, and so Eugenia Macías Guzmán joined our group. Currently Eugenia is a member of a team of curators and researchers for the Modern Art Museum-INBA in Mexico City.

From Norway, Mexico, and America, we have banded together to bring you a new look at Carl Lumholtz's old photographs.



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