Navajo photographer LeRoy DeJolie discusses his work which features the Arizona landscape. He also trains young students to learn photography.
Navajo LeRoy DeJolie on His Arizona Photography
MATT LAUER, co-host:
And TODAY'S AMERICAN STORY WITH BOB DOTSON comes from the Navajo reservation in northern Arizona, home to some of the most spectacular scenery on earth. Bob found a man there who's made it his life mission to make others aware of the beauty of his land.
BOB DOTSON reporting:
A paint box tips and spills, casting its beauty on the earth below. Leroy DeJolie waits for that light, for just the right moment, to show us his home.
Mr. LEROY DeJOLIE: This is the center of the earth, and certainly the center of my heart. This is where my cultural values began.
DOTSON: DeJolie grew up on a Navajo ranch north of the Grand Canyon. But for most of his 45 years, he has had to straddle two worlds.
Mr. DeJOLIE: It's like a knot, you know, tied in a rope.
DOTSON: Days working in a power plant, evenings and weekends doing something traditional Indians once shunned.
Mr. DeJOLIE: The Navajos were a little reluctant to get their photographs taken because they felt like they were stealing their soul.
DOTSON: Leroy figured photography could preserve the Navajos' deep spiritual connection to the land. So he snapped a picture and sent it to Arizona Highways magazine.
Mr. PETER ENSENBERGER (Arizona Highways Magazine): He made a masterpiece out of a fairly, you know, mundane and usual scene.
DOTSON: Soon, scores more arrived.
Mr. ENSENBERGER: His photographs show us what needs to be appreciated and what needs to be preserved and what needs to be looked after.
DOTSON: Think of Navajo land as one big cathedral bounded by four sacred mountains, its landscape littered with lessons that could guide our lives. Where you and I see a beautiful mesa, DeJolie might see a sculpture left by God, put there to remind us to get along with one another. Plenty now see what he sees. He has just published a book, "NavajoLand."
Mr. DeJOLIE: Doesn’t that look cool?
Female Student: Yeah.
DOTSON: A new generation of Native Americans, inspired by Leroy's approach, is now learning photography.
Ms. RONDA TODECHINI (Photography Student): It's like a whole new world to me. And I have a different appreciation for it. It's more spiritual.
DOTSON: Leroy believes a responsibility comes with living in this spectacular landscape. He now takes Navajo kids to places that aren't hiked every day, and teaches them photography for free.
Mr. DeJOLIE: What do you think of that? Isn’t that beautiful?
DOTSON: Here in the closeness of a desert-cut, he shows them the power of shadow and light.
Mr. DeJOLIE: What kind of lighting do we call that, do you remember?
Female Student: Side light.
Mr. DeJOLIE: No, it's called reflective lighting, because it's reflecting back off the direct lighting, right?
DOTSON: Brandon Willard, just 10, has already learned to look beyond the normal.
Mr. DeJOLIE: You can adjust that up and down like that, OK? And you can focus. Make an image, OK?
DOTSON: What do you hope these kids see through the lens, besides just a pretty picture?
Mr. DeJOLIE: Gosh, I hope they see the sacredness in the culture, culture that lies in our tradition.
DOTSON: Some folks say we have lost our sense of place, that the future lies over the mountains, out on the highways. Not Leroy DeJolie.
Mr. DeJOLIE: I remain anchored to the red rock country of Navajo land. This is where I'm supposed to be.
DOTSON: In a land that still has lessons to teach. For TODAY, Bob Dotson, NBC News, with AN AMERICAN STORY on the Navajo reservation near Page, Arizona.