Susanne Page, Who Took Rare Photos of the Hopi and Navajo, Dies at 86

Susanne Page, Who Took Rare Photos of the Hopi and Navajo, Dies at 86

Susanne Page, whose intimate photographs of the Hopi tribe and Navajo nation opened a rare window on the everyday culture of Indigenous people in America’s Southwest, died on May 13 in Alexandria, Va. She was 86.

The cause of her death, at the home of her daughter, Kendall Barrett, was brain cancer, another daughter, Lindsey Truitt, said.

Ms. Page was in the midst of a 40-year career as a photographer for the United States Information Agency when she began creating vivid images of Native Americans and the flora and fauna that sustained them — work that embraced the beauty of the natural world and its profound spiritual significance to those Indigenous people. Her work appeared in magazines like National Geographic and Smithsonian and in several books.

Along the way she introduced the subject of Native Americans of the Southwest to Jake Page, an editor and columnist at Smithsonian.

Intrigued by her first book, “Song of the Earth Spirit” (1972), about traditional Navajo life in Arizona, Mr. Page commissioned her to write an article about Navajo witchcraft. While that article failed to materialize, Hopi elders, impressed by the seriousness of the Navajo book, invited Ms. Page, who went by the name Susanne Anderson then, to document their tribe, offering her access to its reservation in Northern Arizona.

She seized on the opportunity, becoming the first outside photographer to be authorized to work on the reservation since early in the 20th century. She also invited Mr. Page to help on the project, a prospect so enticing to him that he retired from Smithsonian so that he could join her.

In December 1974, the temperature in their rented Volkswagen plunged to 10 degrees Fahrenheit as they climbed a mesa in the Northern Arizona highlands, where the Hopi have lived for a millennium — a site inhabited longer than any other place in North America, Mr. Page wrote.

Their arrival at their destination was inauspicious: A boldly-lettered sign warned, “No Outside White Visitors: Because of your failing to follow the laws of our tribe as well as the laws of your own, this village is hereby closed.”

Still, in some two dozen visits, they cultivated friendships with tribe members, and in 1982 they published “Hopi,” with photographs by Susanne and text by Jake. They married shortly afterward.

Their access to the Hopi gave readers the opportunity “to join an expedition to capture an eagle from a nest high up in a hidden canyon,” the publisher, Harry N. Abrams, proclaimed, and to follow “a lengthy pilgrimage to the sacred shrines that mark the ancestral lands of the Hopi — a religious trek that only 14 living people in the world have ever made.”

The couple later collaborated on “Celebration of Being: Photographs of the Hopi and Navajo” (1990),“Navajo” (1995) and “Indian Arts of the Southwest” (2008).

“I have tried to photograph people the way I feel that they see themselves rather than the way an outsider might want to see them,” Ms. Page said.

Susanne Calista Stone was born on March 3, 1938, in Upper Montclair, N.J. Her mother, Virginia (Young) Stone, managed the household. Her father, Charles Francis Stone III, was in the Army and worked for the Central Intelligence Agency after World War II.

The family lived on Army bases during the war before settling in Washington. After graduating from high school in Arlington, Susanne attended art school in London and George Washington University.

She was a single mother when her career in photojournalism began in 1967, while working as an editor for a photo magazine that the U.S. Information Agency published for distribution in the Soviet Union as part of Cold War cultural exchanges.

Armed with a 14-year-old Nikon camera, she tackled her first assignment: compile a photo essay of a veterinarian in rural Appalachia.

Her photographs have been published in numerous publications and exhibited in many galleries and are in the collection of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.

Her marriages to Fred Anderson and to Tom Truitt ended in divorce. In addition to her daughters Lindsey and Kendall, she is survived by another daughter, Sally Truitt; her stepdaughters, Dana, Lea and Brooke Page; 10 grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. Mr. Page died in 2016, and Ms. Page’s sister, Sally Stone Halverson, died in 2014.

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