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Personal connection: Inspired by her family’s ancestral home, Deborah Lujan fell into taking landscape photography of Taos Pueblo

“Santa Ana’s Rain,” by Deborah Lujan. Taken on the feast day of Santa Ana in July 2019 after tumultuous rains halt the corn dances.

Deborah Lujan’s Taos Pueblo gallery nestles within her family’s ancestral home.

The photographer’s images capture the pueblo’s coral light at sunset against a mountainscape sugared in snowfall. Or the way the turquoise in a woman’s traditional dress mirrors a doorway’s hue.

Lujan grew up straddling homes in both Albuquerque and at the pueblo. Her parents worked for the federal government here. They spent their weekends and vacations in Taos.

“Taos Pueblo Horno” by Deborah Lujan.

A violinist since she was 8 years old, Lujan accidentally discovered photography when a Sandia High School guidance counselor suggested she take a class in something other than music.

In the old days of chemical printing and darkrooms, she quickly grasped the steps needed to produce a print.

“It was fascinating to me,” Lujan said, “because it was method, like playing music; like practicing for hours on end and the satisfaction of seeing a print come to a fruition in the darkroom.”

She never took another photography class.

After Lujan graduated from the University of New Mexico with dual degrees in music and sociology, she returned to the pueblo to open her own gallery of Native American art.

It’s said the secret of a successful business is to find a niche and fill it.

“Winter at Taos Pueblo” by Deborah Lujan.

Lujan realized no one at Taos Pueblo was taking landscape photographs.

The job was left to mostly white male outsiders.

“People kept asking me about postcards,” she said. “Nobody had that. How come nobody from the pueblo was doing landscapes?

“So it was very much a niche; I fell into it. I’m still surprised there aren’t more Taos people doing this.”

Selfie, Deborah Lujan

A framed reproduction that hung in her parents’ Albuquerque living room offered early inspiration.

“When I was a kid, my folks moved here in 1969,” Lujan said. “When they opened a checking account, (the bank) gave them an Ansel Adams print. It was called ‘Woman Winnowing Wheat.’ I was always enchanted by it.”

Adams took the photo at Taos Pueblo.

Lujan juried into the Santa Fe Indian Market in 2014 with “New Mexico Sunset,” an unedited digital print awash in natural color and light.

It won her first place for color photography.

Last year, she took a best of division award as well as a first-place award for black-and-white photography.

Today, Lujan sells her work at all the important juried native art shows, including the Heard Museum in Phoenix, the Autry Museum in Los Angeles and the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

In April, she launched her website, deborahlujanphotography.com.

The pandemic cancellation of the 2020 Santa Fe Indian Market was a blow. Sales there account for half her income.

“It was stunning to hear that news,” Lujan said. “You do your best work for Indian Market. But we’re trying to make do. And who knows when the pueblo will reopen?”

Loyal customers continue to call, and she’s getting help from an artist relief grant at the Poeh Cultural Center at Pojoaque Pueblo.

She will occasionally shoot portraits for friends, but she doesn’t consider that her forte; she prefers landscapes.

“The buildings don’t talk back,” she said, giggling.

She mused about the nearly universal appeal of Taos Pueblo.

“One of my friends at the Smithsonian said, ‘It’s the most interesting way people react to your work. They either have been there or they want to go there.’ ”

“People tell their stories,” Lujan said, “ ‘I remember being in Taos and sitting by the river’ or ‘I went to your church.’ It’s a very personal connection.”

“Afternoon Shadows” by Deborah Lujan.

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