Time Exposures: Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century

Review

of an Exhibition

by Maura Nelson

Published on February 15, 2010, Modified on February 21, 2010

  • Description:

    During a recent trip to New Mexico, my travelling group happened upon the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History. Having some free time, we decided to stop in for a visit. While all the exhibits were beautifully presented, the current exhibition “Time Exposures – Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century” was especially impactful.

    About the Exhibition

    Using a selection of over 300 historic photographs and an array of artifacts, “Time Exposures” tells the story of the people of Isleta Pueblo, a Native American community in New Mexico, is portrayed before the arrival of the Americans, the changes imposed over the following decades, and the ways in which the Isleta Pueblo people worked to preserve their ways of life.

    The exhibit is divided into three distinct parts. The first section, the cycle of the traditional year, as observed in the mid-19th century is described. The lives of the Isleta Pueblo people were organized according to the seasons, farming, hunting and gathering practices and a regular sequence of ceremonies and rituals.

    The second section of the exhibition describes the arrival of the Americans and ways in which this influx disrupted the way of life of for the Isleta Pueblo people. The Americans took over the land and waterways, prohibited hunting and severely limited the access to plants and other resources. While the Isleta Pueblo people fought these changes, they also learned how to become members of America on their own terms.

    In the final section of the exhibition, the photographs depict the Isleta Pueblo people as products of the white culture. The exhibit explores the underlying ideas and values of the photos and asks what kind of record they represent for the Isleta Pueblo people and their traditions.

    The Use of Technology

    While minimal in use, there are several instances of technologies that enhance the overall visitor experience throughout this particular exhibition.

    In the first section of the exhibition, there are photographs hung on surrounding walls for each month of the year depicting Isleta Pueblo people engaged in seasonal traditions and customs. In the center of the exhibit space, the visitor finds a circle of waist-high pedestals containing backlit replicated artwork from the Isleta Pueblo people. This design echoes the cyclical nature of the calendar year. The artwork represents a different seasonal custom or tradition practiced by the Isleta Pueblo people during each month of the year.

    Accompanying the artwork are audio recordings of authentic music and songs from the Isleta Pueblo people, corresponding to the events depicted by the artwork. The visitor has the option of listening to audio using a hand held receiver or simply out loud by pushing a button. The volume level for the latter option is not such that it would disturb other visitors in the exhibit space other than perhaps pique curiosity. Access to either option is straightforward and I observed several visitors employing both options. These recordings not only connect the photographs and the artwork, but also provide an opportunity for another visitor entry point to the exhibition, offering additional dimension to the story of the Isleta Pueblo people.

    Further on in the exhibition, the visitor comes to a set of interactive touch screen kiosks. For a visitor wanting to further explore the photographic history of the Isleta Pueblo people and community, the first kiosk allows the visitor to search a larger database of Isleta Pueblo images. The touch screen application was appropriately sensitive to touch and made navigation through the photograph collection effortless.

    In total, there are over twenty five hundred historic photographs in the Isleta historic photograph collection and these photographs come from a number of archival collections throughout the United States. The Isleta Cultural Committee plans to continue the search for additional historic photographs to contribute to the growth of the collection.

    The second kiosk contains a searchable subset of the Isleta Pueblo photographic images. On each image there are several small blue dots scattered across the image. When the visitor touches one of the blue dots, additional information about the photograph appears. Whether it labels an object in the photograph, provides a description of the image, or names specific Isleta Pueblo people, this feature adds an interpretive layer that would otherwise be absent if simply viewing the standalone photograph.

    If there was one technological element that I thought could add to this exhibition, it might be capturing audio recordings of oral history or commentary from the current resident Isleta Pueblo population. However, one of the challenges to this exhibit was creating a visitor experience without revealing too much information about the practices and beliefs of this private community. The contemporary community has preserved their way of life by keeping traditions private and it was important to the elders to insure that this exhibition did not intrude on this boundary. With this in mind, the level of technology incorporated into this exhibition was appropriate in both format and content.

    Following the museum visit, I spoke with the comrades I was travelling with since we had spent varying times in the museum at the different exhibitions. I was interested to gauge their reactions to the “Time Exposures” exhibition and in particular, their thoughts on the audio and touch screen options. Both technologies were received well and consensus among the group was that both furthered the story of the Isleta Pueblo people and added an additional layer to the curated photographic collection. Ultimately, I believe that the use of the technology in this exhibition as described above certainly achieved engagement while enhancing, expanding and extending the overall visitor experience.

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