Navajo Nation is the United States’ largest Native American territory, and it is also one of the most violent. For the people living on the reservation, the artwork of Dr. Chip Thomas serves as a reminder of the beauty and fortitude that remains at the core of the community. Photographer Tom Fowlks captures the artist and practicing physician, who has served the Navajo population for over 26 years, as he perches upon one of his installations in the Painted Desert of Arizona: a blown up back and white photograph of a woman’s laughing face pasted on the surface of one of the reservation’s many abandoned buildings.
Under Fowlks’s gaze, the body of the artist appears as an afterthought to the immensity of his creation. Some in the Navajo community fear that photographs have the potential to steal the soul from its body; for this reason, Thomas asks each subject before snapping their portrait. Judging by Fowlks’s image, the artwork seems only to celebrate the souls and joys of people in a place too often forgotten by time.