Capturing his Navajo Culture: Eugene Tapahe on Photography, Art and Advocacy

'Strength and Dignity' (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)

Photographer and Culturs Ambassador Eugene Tapahe embodies a fusion of heritage and modernity, seamlessly blending his Diné (Navajo) roots with his artistic pursuits.

Born in Window Rock, Ariz., U.S.A. and raised in the Navajo Nation, Tapahe’s formative years, steeped in the timeless traditions of his Navajo ancestors, instilled a profound reverence for nature and a deep-seated commitment to preserving ancestral wisdom.

In the embrace of his grandmother, he learned the sacred bond between the people and the land, a bond that resonates in every click of his camera shutter. As a photographer and cultural ambassador, Tapahe’s journey echoes the rhythms of the land he cherishes, weaving tales of tradition and modernity through his captivating images.

'Sacred Heart' (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)
‘Sacred Heart’ (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)

Tapahe’s journey has taken him on a path of artistic exploration and cultural advocacy. Currently living in Provo, Utah, U.S.A. with his wife and daughters, Tapahe reflects on his evolution from a “Navajo Times” advertising representative to a celebrated photographer and community leader.

“I didn’t set out to become a photographer, but rather stumbled into it during my time at the ‘Navajo Times,’” Tapahe says.

His transition from advertising to photojournalism was serendipitous, sparked by a chance opportunity to document a local rodeo. This first foray ignited Tapahe’s passion for storytelling through imagery, laying the foundation for his unique artistic vision.

“Photography was something that I did not get trained with,” Tapahe says.

“I was responsible for doing advertising and laying out the newspaper,” he continues. “But I wanted more than just design and advertising. I wanted to share my talents in photography through journalism.”

Now, drawing from his graphic design and journalism background, Tapahe crafts visual narratives that bridge the gap between past and present. His work transcends mere documentation, imbuing landscapes and portraits with a palpable sense of history and reverence.

“I use photography as a means of cultural preservation,” Tapahe says. “It’s my way of honoring my heritage and sharing it with the world.”

With a borrowed camera and boundless curiosity, Tapahe embarked on a journey of discovery, capturing the stories of his people and the landscapes that cradle their spirits.

“I didn’t have any inspiration from other photographers,” Tapahe says. “I just used my knowledge of graphic design to compose imagery through the lens.”


For Tapahe, the biggest obstacle in his career was the battle with self-doubt and the quest for creative innovation.

“The biggest obstacle for me is myself,” Tapahe says. “There are times when self-motivation wanes, but I remind myself of the vast opportunities awaiting exploration.”

Despite the hurdles, Tapahe’s indomitable spirit guided him through the corridors of academia, culminating in a Master of Fine Arts degree from Brigham Young University.

“My MFA journey was transformative,” Tapahe says. “As a mature student among the youth, I embraced the spirit of collaboration, learning invaluable lessons from the vibrant tapestry of perspectives.”

Tapahe’s work transcends conventional photography. It embraces diverse mediums and immersive experiences. From captivating landscapes to thought-provoking installations, Tapahe’s artistry embodies a harmonious blend of tradition and innovation while echoing the timeless wisdom of his ancestors.

Central to Tapahe’s artistic philosophy is a deep-seated respect for diversity within Indigenous communities.

“There’s a misconception that all Native Americans share the same culture,” he says. “Each tribe boasts its own distinct traditions, languages and belief systems.”

As a mature student among the youth, I embraced the spirit of collaboration, learning invaluable lessons from the vibrant tapestry of perspectives.

This rich tapestry of diversity is a recurring theme in Tapahe’s work, which aims to amplify marginalized Indigenous groups’ voices.


Tapahe’s artistic endeavors extend beyond mere aesthetic expression, serving as catalysts for healing and reconciliation.

'Strength and Dignity' (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)
‘Strength and Dignity’ (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)

His groundbreaking “Art Heals: The Jingle Dress Project,” born amidst the turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, exemplifies this ethos. Rooted in the healing traditions of the Ojibwe jingle dress dance, the project embarked on a nationwide journey to bless ancestral lands and foster unity.

“It wasn’t just about photography or dance,” Tapahe says while reflecting on the project’s profound impact. “It was about collective healing.”

The project garnered widespread acclaim, resonating with individuals from diverse backgrounds and sparking vital conversations about Indigenous resilience and identity. The project became a beacon of hope and healing to unite people in a collective wish for humanity’s well-being.

There’s a misconception that all Native Americans share the same culture. Each tribe boasts its own distinct traditions, languages and belief systems.

“The Jingle Dress Project wasn’t about bringing attention to Native people; it was about bringing hope and healing to those afflicted by the pandemic,” Tapahe says. “Through the sacred dance of the Ojibwe jingle dress, we embarked on a journey to bless the lands of our ancestors, invoking their spirits to guide us through these trying times.”

As the project garnered acclaim and touched lives nationwide, Tapahe witnessed the profound impact of art as a conduit for empathy and understanding.

“Art opens our hearts and fosters dialogue beyond politics and prejudice,” Tapahe says. “It bridges the chasms of cultural divide, fostering a deeper appreciation for our shared humanity.”


Beyond artistic expression, Tapahe’s advocacy extends to the vital cause of land acknowledgment, which is a poignant tribute to the Indigenous peoples who stewarded the earth for millennia.

'Indian Land' (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)
‘Indian Land’ (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)

Through his photography and community engagement, Tapahe strives to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, fostering a culture of reverence for ancestral lands and traditions.

“The land acknowledgment project emerged from a desire to honor the Indigenous caretakers of the land,” Tapahe says. “It wasn’t about bringing attention to native issues; it was about fostering a deeper connection to the land and its custodians.”

With a backdrop of a shifting cultural landscape, Tapahe finds solace in the resurgence of Indigenous voices in mainstream media, which is a testament to the rich tapestry of native cultures across the United States. From critically acclaimed films to groundbreaking television series, Indigenous storytellers are reclaiming their narratives, challenging stereotypes and celebrating the diversity of Indigenous experiences.

“I’m excited about the upsurge of Indigenous representation in mainstream media,” Tapahe says. “It brings awareness to the enduring presence of native cultures and fosters a deeper understanding of our shared heritage.”

'Spiritual Sunrise' (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)
‘Spiritual Sunrise’ (Photo courtesy Eugene Tapahe)


As Tapahe navigates the complex intersection of tradition and modernity, he stays steadfast in his commitment to cultural advocacy and artistic expression. His upcoming endeavors include community art initiatives and further exploring Indigenous storytelling through multimedia platforms.

“I’m excited to see where the next five years will take me,” he says.

Tapahe envisions a future brimming with possibilities fueled by his unwavering passion for art and advocacy.

“There’s still so much to explore, so many stories waiting to be told,” he says.

Tapahe stands as a beacon of authenticity and resilience in the evolving landscape of Indigenous representation. Through his artistry and activism, he continues to redefine the narrative of Indigenous identity, inspiring others to embrace their heritage and celebrate the diversity of these cultures. With every click of his camera shutter, he weaves a tapestry of stories that transcend boundaries, uniting hearts in a symphony of hope, healing and humanity.


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