Finding the Students

From the outset, Sol Worth and John Adair were looking for specific types of people to be their students:

(1) a girl; (2) a craftsman or woman who would be, as it were, a step down in the artistic (in the Western cultural sense) hierarchy; (3) a person with political ambitions, who might see this new way of communicating as a means to enhance his power in the community; and (4) a Navajo who had no craft, artistic, political, or personal interest or aptitude in filmmaking (1).

They also wished to include a Navajo artist, thinking that someone who was already involved in artistic communication might have more of an aptitude for filmmaking and be able to help teach the others.

To fill the role of artist, they chose Alfred Clah, 19, an art student from the American Indian School of Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Al, a native of Indian Wells, Arizona, was the only member of the class who was not part of the Pine Springs community. In Worth’s first interview with Clah, the artist explained why the project appealed to him,

For me, I think I should learn a little bit more and the pay doesn’t make any difference, that’s just what…I wanted to do this, you know, all this time. Maybe I just, maybe some day I may go to visit some place and record some, oh, film, some kind of scenes for my own use as an artist. From an artist point of view, I like it very much (2).

He continued,

I could use a lot of idea, and I could go out and film some of these uh, art film which I could show back at San Francisco. They have a very nice program almost every other week, or every week…I might show some film there, you know, maybe a shadow. Just a shadow along, see how it works, it moves, the colors…All these nice, nice qualities that could be as expressive as an abstract and use the colors (3).

He also explained that he wanted to use the money he earned that summer to buy a camera. He would bring this camera to Edinburgh, where he planned to attend a festival after the project ended (4).

Later in the project, Clah said in an interview with Worth,

“I’d like to get a master degree from the fine arts. And furthermore, I’d like to go to another…career, you know, another training. Maybe films…a great deal of interest” (5).

Worth replied,

“…I would be interested in helping you. I would like to invite you, I would like to at least have you come down and see it, and you know, you’d just continue little by little but we’d start it now so it shouldn’t end sort of, and never be followed up. See I feel that things like this should be continued” (6).

To find the rest of the students, they relied on the help of Johnny Nelson, who worked at the trading post. Nelson was an acquaintance of Adair’s, from previous field work. The vice-chairman of the local chapter, he was highly involved in community politics and had many community connections.

Johnny introduced them to Mike Anderson, 24, a native of Pine Springs.  Anderson had spent three years working in San Francisco, and his eventual goal was to go to barber school. He wanted work for the summer, and so it made sense for him to participate in the project.

Nelson himself became the student with political interests. However, it’s clear that his motivations for participating in the project went beyond politics. After asking Worth to consider him as one of the film students, he said, “…I really feel it’s time some Navajo became a professor in that – just like you” (7).

In his first interview with Worth, Nelson explained why he was interested in filmmaking,

Well the way I understood it when John told me…how we was going to get the young people to learn about the movie, taking pictures and uh, stuff like that, and uh, learn more about the cameras and …how much they can learn from studying and taking pictures. This I thought was very good to myself and this was one reason why I talk to my boss about it and he understood very clearly…And he said that there was something here that very rarely comes around you know, to people. So this is what very impressed me was that I like to learn something, to say that I didn’t get a chance to learn when I was in school yet. Of course this might be the only time that they have this sort of a program out here on the reservation, especially here in Pine Springs. So I decided that I would get in on this plan so I can learn something from it (8).

He went on to explain his ideas filmmaking after the project,

In the later years, I might be able to buy myself a camera movie projector, something like that, so I can know…how to go about taking movies, making movie film. The process to go by, to have it developed, where to send it to and things like that, and how to get good movies, pictures, and all that stuff like that…(9).

Nelson introduced Worth and Adair to Susie Benally, 26, a skilled Pine Springs weaver.  After that, although they had fulfilled their student quota, the students explained that the group was unbalanced: they needed an equal number of women and men.

And so, Nelson introduced Worth and Adair to Mary Jane Tsosie (21) and her sister Maxine (17). They were the daughters of local chapter chairman Juan Tsosie, and granddaughters of Sam Yazzie, a celebrated medicine man. It seems that the sisters were interested in the opportunity to learn about film and also hoped to receive school credit. Worth saw an additional benefit in having the project associated with powerful men in the community.

It seems that Mary Jane was interested in receiving school credit for her participation in the project. Worth wrote,

[Mary Jane] came over again later, “are we going to get school credit for what we are doing?” I said, I would try but it depended on what she did (10).

According to Chalfen, Maxine may have had similar expectations,

…it was later learned that Juan Tsosie wants Maxine to go to school this summer, to get credit in some way towards her education. S.W. said that he’d be glad to write a letter and possibly a grade to any academic institution she wanted; the concern of Juan seemed not to be about the money paid Maxine – here the value of knowledge supersedes a money value (11).

Worth restated his willingness to award academic credit to the Tsosie sisters in his letter to them after the project had ended (12).

Another clue to Mary Jane’s motivations for participating in the project can be found in a letter she wrote to one of her sisters,

I have been working for a week now with Maxine at Pine Springs. We are having a good time with the camera, what we are doing is taking pictures of anything you want. Now I can get my sewing machine. Which I am glad. Maybe I should get the dishes I don’t know yet which I want to take (13).