AN EXHIBIT OF photographs of Native Americans currently running at the Buffalo Gallery in Alexandria seems more of a love chant than a war whoop. Most of the pictures, taken by John Running and Sue Bennett, are splendid. I had some problems, however, with the way they were displayed.
This is a very specialized show: It not only requires an interest in photography, but also an interest in things Indian. The pictures are much more than the stereotyped shots of old braves with wrinkled faces. Indeed, there are some of those, but most are of people doing something!
Bennett's picture titled "Norogachic Bridge" is a superior wide-angle, 20-by-30-inch Cibachrome print. Its main feature is a huge sweep of deep-blue sky with a giant fluffy cloud in the middle. The Indians are silhouetted at the bottom of the picture, coming off the bridge.
Beside it hang two 30-by-30 color portraits of fine technical quality, but somewhat undercropped. The more you look at them, the more you realize there should have been more emphasis on those piercing eyes.
In the same grouping, the tightly-cropped picture of a Tarahumara woman and baby shows how it should be done..
Bennetts' four black-and-whites work well together. They seem to be prints from the full negative, and the white space gives a quiet, high-key impression. They were shot at different times and different places, but the faces complement each other. There is a black face with a feathery headdress; a portrait of an elderly man with long braided pigtails; a maiden who looks almost oriental; and a frowning chief in a headdress bursting with feathers. Each with a different personality, together a tribe.
Running's pictures first appeared in his book, "Honor Dance," published by the University of Nevada Press in 1985.
This exhibit is a wide-ranging collection, encompassing many tribes. There is a picture called "Blackfeet Hands" -- a picture of handprints on the rump of a pony. The handprints are red, red as low-mountain clay, and the horse is white. It is in the ancient tradition in which a warrior paints symbols on his mount.
Nearby is a powerful shot of a sunset across the tops of three tepees. The reds, oranges and browns roll across the sky to wrap the tepee poles in warmth.
A picture titled "Dancer's Feet, Animal Dance," is everything an Indian dance should be. The remarkably sharp and detailed photography shows the precisely wrapped leather leggings, the stitching on the moccasins and even the grain in the dirt underfoot.
Be sure to see a wonderful picture called "Corn Dance" made at San Ildefonso Pueblo, New Mexico. It is a moving, low-key semi-closeup of an Indian woman holding pine boughs, wearing what is reminiscent of a Viking headdress.
The greens of her dress and of the pine are spectacularly unique in this show, in which most of the pictures reflect the reds, browns and dust tones of the southwest.
Be prepared to spend some time on this exhibit. Since the pictures are mounted under glass, the reflections are toublesome; you have to find just the right spot to view each picture.
You'll also have to concentrate a bit, since the pictures are hung too close together and there are, perhaps, too many in the show. It's regrettable that the gallery couldn't have cleared more space.
Both photographers use Nikons, with a full range of lenses. They shoot Kodachrome 64 for color, which is handled by a friendly lab in Phoenix, and Tri-X for black and white (which they process and print themselves).
The show will continue at the Buffalo Gallery, 127 S. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, through the July 4 weekend. SENIORS' SNAPS -- An exhibit of photographs by men and women 60 or older opens this Saturday at the Charter House, 1316 Fenwick Lane in Silver Spring. Opening reception, with announcement of awards, is at 2 p.m. Call 495-0700.