Photographing Native Americans was the main reason why I came to the U.S. 30 years ago. My first pow wow photos ultimately made it possible for me to travel the world as a professional photographer.
This image proves that dreams do come true.
Acosia Red Elk, a member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a world-champion jingle dress dancer whose ancestry can be traced back to Chief Joseph, stands at the top of Paulina Peak at sunset, posing in her heirloom buckskin dress.
Paulina Peak, located high above the desert in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument, affords stunning views of the Cascade Mountains and the Eastern Oregon deserts. For photographers, this location can be very rewarding at sunrise. If you are fortunate to be here when the high peaks are still snowed in, the first light illuminates them with a red-orange tint. While a sunset can be nice, it requires more clouds to make it interesting.
I threw my whole repertoire of photographic skills for creating the image. As she stood on the cliff, I leaned over the abyss shooting different angles and focal lengths while balancing two Alien Bee Flash units. We were shooting into the sun, using flare as a tool to dramatize the scene. Meanwhile my wife, Regula, fought against the wind, the dust, power failures and answered questions from visitors appearing on the scene.
After we nailed the light, the clouds and the sun became one in my camera, and I noticed the last rays of light falling on the dead trees behind us. Frantically I sent Acosia over to pose in the trees, standing there looking out over the large expanse of this western landscape. You could see Paulina Peak and East Lake below, and you could visualize a land before the first fur traders would have seen it.