Picture Taker -"Pushing Boundaries"
Arlene Bowman, photographer and filmmaker born on the Navajo Nation in Greasewood, Ariz., grew up in Phoenix. Arlene is known for her films, including Navajo Talking Picture and Song Journey, shown in international film festivals and on PBS. Arlene's photos are on exhibit in Vancouver BC, where she now lives.
Arlene Bowman, Dine’ known as Navajo, I, started taking still photographs since 14 when and where in 1963, Phoenix, Arizona, I first learned still photography from Natasha Kashmereck, a still photography teacher at Cortez High School. Now primarily I am a filmmaker. At 22 in 1971 and afterwards in the U.S. and worldwide I became more active and constantly shot still photographs: of landscapes, friends, people I knew and did not know well, animals, parties, gatherings, landscapes, places I travelled to and lately still photographs and videos of Coho salmon at Hyland Creek in Surrey BC Canada. I have taken many still photographs to document my life. Lulls sometimes happened.
I know the “old style” and digital style of still photography. At Cortez High I learned how to shoot black and white film, process and print black and white negatives into prints. I shot with a 2 1/4” Yashica camera. I learned to process film, winding film onto a plastic in the dark then placed the plastic inside a 2 1/4” plastic canister. Poured 1:3 Kodak Dk-76 into canister, 68 degrees Fahrenheit and agitated per minute, 11 minutes. Poured out Dk-76 liquid. Poured water into canister to rinse out Dk-76, 3-4 minutes. Poured regular fix into canister and agitated per minute, 10 minutes. 5 minutes - if selected rapid fix and agitated per minute. After fix, poured hustler into canister to rinse fix from film, agitated per minute, 2 minutes. Washed film in water, 12 minutes. Dipped film in photo flow 30 seconds and hung up to dry.
In 1971 I shot film with a Minolta SLR camera. In the dark or in a black bag I wound 35mm black and white film onto a 35mm metal wind up and placed it into a metal canister. In 1974 I bought a Nikkormat SLR. Shot mostly black and white film and color slides. I bought a Simon Omega enlarger and printed mostly 35mm black and white prints in my LA apartment kitchen. Started shooting digital with a small Canon power shot in 2008. Now I shoot still photographs and videos with Canon digital EOS SLR Rebel T3.
Since I could not break into the still photography world at 26 years old, I decided to try filmmaking. People learn to make films and videos by being self-taught or they attend film school. When I first arrived and lived in LA in 1976, I lived near Vermont Avenue, across the street from Los Angeles Community College. As far as I knew at the time concerning community colleges in the whole of Los Angeles, LACC was the only community college in existence around that had a cinema program affordable for the low income. My first film classes took place there. Von Obern a teacher taught a business film class. He attended UCLA. I asked him after class who does UCLA select, a particular student or person to go to UCLA film school? He said any background. I had my BFA in still photography. When I heard his answer, I said, I’m gonna try UCLA. I applied and got in. I liked it. I attended the UCLA graduate film production in 1979. Received a MFA in film production 1986. The filmmaking doors were more open than still photography for me.
Still photography gave me some paid jobs, but not a lot. In the future I wish to have a solo still photography show. I had heard of a guy who paid for his own still photography show, a good idea, but he had a sizable income to put it on. If no curator accepts my still photographs to show for a solo show, I will fund it myself. Or create a still photography book. I always wondered since 22, 1971, why aren’t there many Indigenous people who shoot still photographs or why aren't there more shows shot by Indigenous still photographers in the world? I followed the route of the counter culture as an Indigenous young person in the late 60’s and early 70’s who asked for change and questioned authority a lot. I didn't follow a conservative path.
Closely I’ve followed statistic assessments of women since 2011 who look for jobs and work in mainstream film and television: outnumbered and over looked in U.S. and Canada. Actually since 1986 when I graduated from UCLA film school and completed the “Navajo Talking Picture” I followed the status, especially of Indigenous women. Mainstream filmmaking world is dominated by men in North America. I imagine still photography world’s the same in regards to women. I checked statistics of women employed in mainstream film and television in both U.S. and Canada; for example from Directors Guild of America and the Women in Film organization in Canada. I follow other creative fields, too. I ask, which people have managerial positions? With the Directors Guild assessment of first time episodic television directors, I wondered how were Indigenous women assessed. In discussions among white women and film in the U.S., usually Indigenous women are not included in discussions. Why Not? Why does mainstream film and television have to be a men’s club? Reminds me of police departments in North America. Apparently men do not want to hire women especially Indigenous women and women of color in mainstream film and television. When will men consider women to hire, especially Indigenous women and other women of color. At present this assessment’s still dismal without any great change: sad. Always been this way since my arrival in LA in 1976, but change must happen.
Although I state the difficulties of Indigenous women to make a living as a still photographer or filmmaker in the mainstream or independently, I continue to shoot still photographs, make videos, write film-video stories, in my life, job or no job. For example, the current topic I shoot of Coho salmon who return yearly in November to Hyland Creek to spawn, release their eggs, die, hatch their eggs and release Coho frys the following March or if someone asks me to take pictures of an event I do it because I like it a lot, but prefer payment or equipment expenses paid for. Still Photography’s similar to filmmaking generally, creative yet technical and costly. Shooting film and video is more expensive and complicated. Other aspects I do: dance, sing, write songs, write poems, perform the spoken word or songs at the open mic, write dramas and make documentaries. I believe in learning continuously of topics. However, many artistic pursuits are hard to maintain. Lots of energy. Money’s a requisite. I've heard of fellow UCLA colleague filmmakers who’ve dropped out, discontinued to make films-videos after film school. Filmmaking’s a tough profession to upkeep requiring loads of stamina and persistence to deflect huge disappointments. Everyone’s different. Successes are possible; for example, such as the "In the Heart of Indigenous Women” 2015 and "Pushing Boundaries" 2015, art exhibits. I try.