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April 15, 2001
Press Articles :: Black and White Magazine



text by: David Best

David Michael Kennedy took an enormous risk when he first began working on his current project of photographing American Indian dancers from the eight northern pueblos around his hometown of Santa Fe.  He knew that photographers are not allowed access without permission from the tribal governor, and he knew such per- mission is nearly impossible to obtain. But when he befriended a Buffalo dancer who agreed to a clandestine photography session, Kennedy took the chance.

I knew that if I showed up asking to make photographs, they would think I was just another wacicu witko (crazy white person) out to exploit their culture, Kennedy says. 'I mean, how do I explain to them how my palladium prints are going to look? They are so used to being lied to and told all these fantasies by photographers that it's very hard for them to believe anyone. So when I went to see the governor, I brought the negatives and prints I had already made and told him that if he wanted I would destroy them right there. We'd take it all out behind his office and bum it.'

It was this kind of risk taking that had served Kennedy well for 1 8 years as a celebrity photographer in New York City. He did portraits for magazines, album covers, and editorial assignments on famous people, including Bob Won, Muddy Waters, Isaac Stern. 'One of the great things about photographing people,' Kennedy says, 'is that you get to slip into their lives for a short time, and see who they are and how they live. You get this very intimate glimpse into their lives.'Kennedy eventually felt he had learned everything he was going to learn in New York City. He was drawn to the limitless horizonsof New Mexico. Once settled in Santa Fe, he found himself goingto the holiday festivals and community dances of the American Indians. He began wondering about the authentic ceremonial dances the Indians reserve for themselves-when they aren't simply performing for tourists

The fact that I don't know my own heritage, and the fact that I'm so strongly drawn to the Indian culture, has made me wonder if perhaps I have Indian blood, Kennedy speculates. 'I find it interesting that of all the cultures I've been exposed to, this is the one I feel strong kinship with.'As a photographer, you have a tremendous responsibility to the people you photograph. For years the Indians hove been ripped off by Wasicu, and I know no money that is going back to the tribes.'

To acknowledge the help he has received, Kennedy donates a percentage from the sale of his prints to the tribes. He knows that without their collaboration there wouldn't be any pictures. It's his way of thanking everyone who has helped make this project possible, including the tribal governor who didn't insist that those unauthorized negatives be burned. 'He was a little upset at first,' says Kennedy. 'But then he took all my prints to show the elders, the medicine people, and other tribal governors. It took about six months to obtain their permission. Each one of the eight pictures in that portfolio went through an incredible process of approval. It took me four or five years to do those pictures.

'There are times when I ask myself what the hell I'm doing", laughs Kennedy. One of the reasons I didn't like assignment work was because of all the politics involved. This project is more political, and more problematic than any commercial work I ever did in New York. But it' s something I really believe in and feel driven to do.
-David Best

reprinted with permission from Black and White Magazine
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ENCAMPMENT PORCUPINE Image size: 1 .5 x I8.5  inches 



SAN ISIDRO Image size: 15 ½ x 19 inches



LAKOTA WARRIOR DANCER Size: 12 ½ x 18 518 inches 


CLOUDSCAPE Vll from Cloudscapes of New Mexico Portfolio of 10 prints
Size: 5 1/2 x 7 inches


NAMBE SPEAR DANCER #2 Image size: 15 1/4 x 15 1/4 inches


EL SANTUARIO, CHIMAYO Size: 18 3/4 x 18 3/4 inches