Debbie Lujan’s photography is marked by a strong sense of depth and composition. The interactions of light and shadow evoke both movement and internal rhythm. Her photograph “Mystic Clouds,” with the distinctive Pueblo architecture against the breathtaking background of a sunset, is a visual symphony.
Not surprising, since the Taos Pueblo native is a classically trained musician who often plays at the San Juan Symphony Orchestra in Durango, Colorado, and other venues. She started playing the violin when she was 8 years old and went on to study music performance at the University of New Mexico (UNM). “And yet, I have always been a visual artist,” she said. “Art has been a key part of my life for a long time.”
After attending UNM, Lujan came back to Taos and opened a gallery, named Summer Rain after her father. At her business, she sells her photographs, her mother’s work and art by other Native American artists.
SHARING, NOT SELLING OUT
Lujan often takes part in juried shows, like the annual “Miniature Show and Sale” and the “Taos Pueblo Artist Winter Show” at the Millicent Rogers Museum. She is also a regular at the Santa Fe Indian Market, where she has won a number of awards. Her photographs have also been shown in the Native Art Market at the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., where only 35 artists were accepted. “It was a great honor to be part of it,” she said.
Other juried shows she has participated in recently are the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market in Phoenix, Arizona; the Native Treasures Indian Art Festival in Santa Fe; and the Autry Museum American Indian Arts Marketplace in Los Angeles, California. Her photographs, used in advertising campaigns by the town of Taos, have appeared in USA Today and other national publications.
Lujan is also the co-organizer of the annual Taos Pueblo Powwow, along with Richard Archuleta and a committee.
“I have a busy schedule,” she said.
AN INSIDER’S VIEW
Her art allows Lujan to share the architectural beauty of her home. “As a photographer, I want to show it in an authentic light, no pun intended,” she said. “I don’t exploit my heritage. That’s why I don’t take pictures of our kivas or our cultural or traditional activities. I’d rather focus on the landscapes I’ve been connected to since I was born.”
Taos Pueblo is one of the most photographed places in the world, but what makes Lujan’s shots of it unique is the fact that she is from the community. “That also makes me very sensitive about how my home is portrayed,” she said.
Being “an insider” also allows her to experience the Pueblo life in a way visitors don’t usually see. “Most tourists come during the summer for the [Taos Pueblo Powwow],” she said. “Many are surprised when my photographs show snow over the Pueblo. They don’t realize we have four seasons here.”
THE SOLITUDE OF THE LENS
Lujan regards the art of photography as a solitary pursuit. “I prefer to shoot when no one is around,” she said. “There is an intimacy with the surroundings and the earth that can only be achieved in perfect solitude, when everything is silent and still.”
Though she focuses on landscapes and buildings, she occasionally takes portraits on request for weddings and special occasions. “I like to capture the way people feel and look during a significant moment,” she said.
INSPIRED BY ANSEL ADAMS
Her concern for the subject matter as well as the clean lines of her compositions connect Lujan’s work to Ansel Adams – who, by the way, was an accomplished pianist.
“One of his most famous photographs is ‘Winnowing Grain.’ That portrays a Pueblo woman dumping wheat over her head,” Lujan said. “I’ve been influenced by that work and love the way it captures an everyday moment in this woman’s life. That’s something to aspire to.”
Though she isn’t “very much into social media” as far as her art is concerned, Lujan smiles when she discloses that she was just invited to be part of a closed Facebook group called “Inspired by Ansel Adams.” “He left quite a legacy,” she said. “And a lot of it was inspired by Taos.”