A different lens: Santa Fe-based Chemehuevi photographer Cara Romero is a storyteller sans words - Albuquerque Journal

A different lens: Santa Fe-based Chemehuevi photographer Cara Romero is a storyteller sans words

Cara Romero’s “The Last Indian Market” beckons part parody, myth and homage, an assemblage of 12 “disciples” framing a Buffalo Man as its magnetic centerpiece.

“Last Indian Market” by Cara Romero

The Santa Fe-based Chemehuevi photographer directed this playful take on both the Santa Fe Indian Market and Leonardo Da Vinci at the Coyote Cafe in 2015.

The figural lineup incorporates a dozen who’s who of Native artists. There’s famed film director Chris Eyre, Romero’s husband; the celebrated Cochiti Pueblo potter Diego Romero, self-cast as Judas; and bead and performance artist Marcus Amerman in the central role of a furry Christ figure. Indian Market groupies can also spot jeweler Kenneth Johnson; painter Darrell Vigil Gray; Jemez Pueblo potter Kathleen Wall; printmaker/painter Linda Lomahafetewa; designer Pilar Agoyo; and painter America Meredith.

Romero stitched the print together from five photographs.

“It was a parody,” she acknowledged. “I really wanted to portray the people of our time. It was an artistic statement that we understand pop culture.”

A Santa Fe Indian Market artist since 2009, Romero has won multiple awards and has exhibited at the National Museum of the American Indian; the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture; and in Britain’s American Museum.

Her great break came when the Smithsonian Institution bought her 30-by-30-inch mounted archival pigment photograph “Water Memory” at the 2015 Santa Fe Indian Market.

“Water Memory” by Cara Romero

Shot in the swimming pool at Santa Fe’s El Rey Inn, its turquoise water surges around two figures dress in Santa Clara Pueblo corn dance finery. The viewer is left to interpret its meaning. Is the liquid abode a womb-like reference? Or are the figures drowning as they float to the floor? Are they immersed, yet still breathing thanks to some oceanic deity?

The photo straddles twin histories: the flooding of tribal lands to build U.S. dams and the pumping of resources from Native soils by extractive industry.

In 1940, the Army Corps of Engineers removed the Chemehuevi people from their homes to create Lake Havasu.

Romero says to this day the lake feels haunted. She grew up on the Chemehuevi Valley Indian Reservation in California.

“It was a pivotal piece,” she acknowledged. “It was a way to express our catastrophic idea of climate change. It became about life cycles and the protection of Mother Earth.”

She shot the piece underwater next to a scuba diving instructor, taking thousands of images across two days.

“I worked with friends and families who had been similarly affected by flooding,” she said.

In a sense, Romero’s photography is rooted in a kind of cultural archaeology.

She pursued a degree in cultural anthropology at the University of Houston before shifting her focus when she realized photographs could express more than words.

“I think I was just made for the medium,” she said. “I was delving into a lot of Native studies. I was very disheartened that it was all taught in historical context.”

Born into poverty, she could only afford a disposable camera. But a single black and white college photography class cemented her future.

“I realized early on I had an eye for content,” she said. “Others may have been greater technically, but I had a lot to say. I had no shortage of ideas. I took all the classes that I could.”

At 22, she “ran off to art school in Santa Fe,” landing at the Institute of American Indian Arts.

“I think at the beginning the (Edward) Curtis print defined what Native photography was,” Romero said. “Even in IAIA, we were really checking that style. I realized I needed to tell my own story.”

“Coyote Tales No. 1” poses the trickster as the devil between two young women as they linger before Española’s “Saints and Sinners” bar.

“Coyote Tales No. 1”

“We learn vicariously through his mistakes,” Romero said. “It’s definitely about painting the town red and being young in New Mexico.”

She still sketches out her ideas on paper before picking up her camera, a storyteller sans words.

“Naomi” sprang from her desire to create her own Native American Girl dolls representing various tribes.

“We have very little accurate representation,” she said.

“Naomi” by Cara Romero

Romero earns about half her income from her website cararomerophotography.com, the other half comes from the now-shuttered Indian Market.

“I think it was a little bit of a shock” she said of its coronavirus closure. “But I really don’t have a problem with it. Our elders are way more important than our economy. We’ll use our resilience and resourcefulness to endure.”

Since Romero is self-isolating because of the pandemic, she can’t ask her friends to pose for her theatrical compositions. She says her three children are her current models.

“I can use my Team Quarantine.”


“Evolvers” by Cara Romero


Home » Entertainment » Arts » A different lens: Santa Fe-based Chemehuevi photographer Cara Romero is a storyteller sans words

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

Film to document 100 years of Zozobra in 2024
In two years, the 100th anniversary ... In two years, the 100th anniversary of Zozobra will take place. On Monday, Hutton Broadcasting announced its collaboration with the Kiwanis Club of Santa ...
Miss O'Keeffe's home sweet home
Beautiful Chama River Valley drew artist ... Beautiful Chama River Valley drew artist to Abiquiú
UNM represented at Italian art exhibition
It's a first for the University ... It's a first for the University of New Mexico. An artist group created the project 'a Library, a Classroom, and the World,' which is ...
Georgia on their mind
O’Keeffe Museum celebrating 25 years of ... O’Keeffe Museum celebrating 25 years of showcasing the renowned artist
Now is the time to repot those houseplants
Bluegrass care is different than caring ... Bluegrass care is different than caring for a Bermuda lawn.
'The Mexican Chile Pepper Cookbook' offers recipes featuring this ...
Learn about the 64 varieties of ... Learn about the 64 varieties of chiles from around Mexico.
'The Lies I Tell' is a hard-to-put-down thriller
For the reader, the book's revelations ... For the reader, the book's revelations lead to questions about the possible gray area of doing what's 'wrong' in order to make things right.
Three NM campsites named 'Best Places to Camp' by ...
Sierra Vista, a dispersed camping site ... Sierra Vista, a dispersed camping site near Las Cruces within the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument; the currently closed Rio Chama Campground near the ...
New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum unveils new ...
The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, ... The Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, located at 4100 Dripping Springs Road in Las Cruces, has a collection around 400 pieces which continues to ...