The Colors of Tradition

Writer Amanda Christmann
Photographer y Scott Baxter and Joanna Proffitt

Long before cowboys and pioneers, Native Americans were the epitome of the spirit of the West. They first learned to cultivate crops from the dry, brittle desert floor, and it was their ways that allowed pioneers, miners and cowboys to survive in the rugged Southwest.

Many Native American tribes were all but wiped out by the destruction of westward expansion and manifest destiny, but today many of the beautiful traditions are undergoing a revival of sorts. Photographers like Scott Baxter and Joanna Proffitt are helping to preserve these ways of life by capturing emotion and images and sharing them with a wider audience.

Baxter and Proffitt share strikingly different perspectives, but their message is the same: they share a visceral appreciation for Native American traditions and a reverence for the spirituality and connectedness behind them.

Each ritual dance and ceremony represents, in one way or another, honor of and gratitude for Mother Earth and all of her creations. These traditions are a beautifully vivid reminder that we all share the gifts and responsibility to protect them, no matter our literal or figurative tribe.

Scott Baxter

I was born in Hartford, Connecticut. I grew up near Princeton, New Jersey, and I moved to Phoenix in 1982. I currently live in Carefree.

I have been a professional photographer since 1986. I was teaching school and one of my ninth grade English students taught me how to process black and white film. I decided then that I wanted to become a photographer instead of going to law school.

I am inspired to photograph Native Americans because of their reverence for our world.

Photography is very subjective. I have always thought that you can tell a lot about a person by viewing their photographs. It’s really pretty simple; I try really hard to make my photographs straightforward, simple and honest.

Joanna Proffitt

I was born in Chicago but I have lived in Arizona most of my life. You might call me a ‘faux-native.’ I grew up in Glendale but have lived in Surprise for many years.

I studied photography years ago in college and have been interested in it to some degree ever since. In 2014, I became more active in making photographs again after getting a digital camera. Photography is how I explore our world. I often shoot subjects and then end up researching them afterward because I want to learn more. 

I normally don’t photograph people. I like to joke that I don’t have the patience for it. I had never attended a hoop dance event before and went out of curiosity. I didn’t expect to be as captivated as I was. The colors and intricacies of the regalia (don’t call them costumes, I learned that the hard way) and dancing accompanied by live chanting and drumming is truly spectacular. I am already planning to go back again next year. 

My most memorable moment as a photographer is probably getting accepted into my first juried exhibition in 2015. It is great to be validated by the art community and to have work on display for the public to view.

 I hope my photography inspires curiosity in people, makes them want to explore this big, wide world we are a part of —and maybe even makes them want to create some art of their own.

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