Cold shoulder

Taos Pueblo, NM, February–early March 1939

It was probably in February 1939 that Ross shot footage of Taos Pueblo, in northern New Mexico. He left no written account of this visit like he did after his 1933-1935 sojourn in his book Amerika Schicksalsstunde (1935). There he comments on the fact that, despite his talks with Pueblo leadership—all arranged through Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Commissioner John Collier—, he felt as if he was separated by a glass wall.

If Ross, who prided himself on his ”Studien”,1had informed himself better he might have learned that Taos Pueblo’s inscrutability was deeply connected to its traditional, conservative leadership (it was, incidentally, a self-governed place that didn’t come under the Indian Reorganization Act), a preference for unanimity, a great sense of communal loyalty with sanctions for non-compliance to match. The very recommendations Ross received from the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Commissioner, moreover,  may well have been an additional reason for the cold shoulder he was given: “in such contacts American Indians have a way of formally introducing an official and then bowing him out of the community without letting him hear or see more than what transpires in the meeting.”2 The fact that Taos Pueblo became increasingly “rent with factions”3 may have reinforced the impenetrability of the place.

Not surprisingly, then, is that a similar sense of a glass wall pervades the footage Ross shot in 1939, a number of years after his first visit there. Surely in wintertime the tourists, the pueblos’ main source of income, stayed away. But the largely deserted public spaces with their almost furtive human presence accurately convey the sense that this remains a very private place for outsiders.

Nico de Klerk

Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Amerika Reise – New Mexico. Santa Fe, Taos Pueblo; Arizona. Grand Canyon (archive title).
Germany: Tobis, 1938-1939

35mm | b&w | silent | 314.6m | 16 fps | 17’

Master:; 00:07:03,09–00:08:34,17

Clip: 0003-02-0123_Amerika_Reise_Westkueste_Grand_Canyon_Nevada_X_OeFM_2016_H264-12Mbits-KFauto-CABAC_1440x1080_16fps_IsFormatOf_ProRes422HQ_3072x2160_24fps_00070309-00083417.mp4

Topic: Indigenous peoples
Case: American journeys


Colin Ross. Die ‘Westliche Hemisphäre’ als Programm und Phantom des amerikanischen Imperialismus. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1942; 118. See Library.

William N. Fenton. Factionalism at Taos Pueblo, New Mexico. [Washington, D.C.]: Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology; n.d. [1957] (Anthropological Papers);  56, 305,

Ibid.; 303.

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