The University of Arizona

With an Eye on Culture:
The Photography of Helga Teiwes

St. Mary's Procession at San Xavier MissionHelga Teiwes stands among the last century's most accomplished documentary photographers of the Southwest. As the museum’s staff photographer from 1964 to 1993, Helga had rare opportunities to photograph the cultural and artistic traditions, the lifeways, and the peoples of Indian communities throughout the region. She began her career at ASM working for Dr. Emil Haury, who hired her to document his 1964 excavations at Snaketown on the Gila River Indian Reservation. For the next three decades, the intrepid native of Dusseldorf, Germany, traversed the Southwest region and captured thousands of images, which are now part of the museum’s extensive photographic archives.

Miss Navajo in front of Window RockBreaking with the tradition of much anthropological photography of the early 20th century, Teiwes approached her subjects as individuals, not as objects. Her informal portraits are intensely personal and capture the every day lives of the many southwestern Indian people. Her photographic projects have resulted in landmark books on Navajo culture, Hopi carvers, and Hopi basket weavers. Indeed, Helga’s photographs have carried images of the Southwest to an international audience.

Lizard and pottery sherd with lizard motif.The exhibition, from October 2003 to June 2004, curated by ASM's Diane Dittemore, included over 50 photographs that reflect the broad scope of Teiwes' career -- her artistic eye and her obvious respect for, and appreciation of, the people and places she captured on film.

Graduate student Ariane Paul conducted interviews with many of Helga's colleagues, as well as some of her Native American subjects. Ariane created a video from these interviews which was shown in the exhibition gallery. A shorter video was also created for the online version of the exhibition.

Apache woman and girl with baskets

Helga herself was involved in the exhibition’s planning. In addition to providing fascinating and gripping biographical information (childhood memories of the bombing of Dusseldorf during WWII), she generously agreed to allow the museum to include examples of her works produced before she came to ASM and those she created "after hours."

You can see selections from the exhibition online.