The University of Arizona Press
“My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world.” This is Navajo country, a land of mysterious and delicate beauty. “Stephen Strom’s photographs lead you to that place,” writes Joy Harjo. “The camera eye becomes a space you can move through into the powerful landscapes that he photographs. The horizon may shift and change all around you, but underneath it is the heart with which we move.” Harjo’s prose poems accompany these images, interpreting each photograph as a story that evokes the spirit of the Earth. Images and words harmonize to evoke the mysteries of what the Navajo call the center of the world.
All landscapes have a history, much the same as people exist within cultures, even tribes. There are distinct voices, languages that belong to particular areas. There are voices inside rocks, shallow washes, shifting skies; they are not silent. And there is movement, not always the violent motion of earthquakes associated with the earth’s motion or the steady unseen swirl through the heavens, but other motion, subtle, unseen, like breathing. A motion, a sound, that if you allow your own inner workings to stop long enough, moves into the place inside you that mirrors a similar landscape; you too can see it, feel it, hear it, know it.
Stephen Strom’s photographs lead you to that place. The camera eye becomes a space you can move through into the powerful landscapes that he photographs. The horizon may shift and change around you, but underneath it is the heart from which we move.
From the mud hills of Nazlini to Moencopi Rise, on the other side of Tuba City, the earth Strom photographs speaks powerful stories. They are of its own origins as the keeper of bones; of survival; of the travels and changes of the people moving on it, inside it; of skies. And the stories change with light, with what is spoken, with what is lived.
You can look at the photograph called “White Mesa Overlook” and know something of the way the land speaks, of the way the Navajo people respond to it. There is something about the way the settlement of people is arranged that is internal, that comes out of the landscape. Strom’s extremely fine depth of field emphasizes this. The distances he imitates make sense in terms of tribal vision. We feel how it all flows together, and time takes on an expansive, mythical sense.
Strom’s photographs emphasize the “not-separate” that is within and that moves harmoniously upon the landscape. The camera is used to see with a circular viewpoint which becomes apparent even though the borders of the images remain rectangular. The land in these photographs is a beautiful force, in the way the Navajo mean the word “beautiful,” an all-encompassing word, like those for land and sky, that has to do with living well, dreaming well, in a way that is complementary to all life.
The photographs are not separate from the land, or larger than it. Rather they gracefully and respectfully exist inside it. Breathe with it. The world is not static but inside a field that vibrates. The whole earth vibrates. Stephen Strom knows this, sees this, and successfully helps us to remember.
A testament to the earth’s living spirit. This volume is a book of beauty, pleasing to the ear and eye. . . . Moving prose and colorful photographs that originated in the heart and speak to us of the center of our being.
— American Indian Culture and Research Journal
Deeply affecting and memorable. . . . An artist to be followed.
A rare symbiotic relationship of complementary visions. . . . Rare beauty.
— Northwest Review
The book Secrets for the Center of the World exhibits an eye for a startlingly altered and refreshing perspective. Strom’s photographs reveal secrets of the obvious that have been concealed by the prevalent dissembling intimacy of ecoporn. Textures of undulant landforms are painted with sparse desert plant communities. Relationships are exposed. Landscape icons are shunned. It wasn’t til I began struggling with the issue of ecoporn that the exceptional nature of these photographs was manifest. They are taken, for the most part, at midday! No blush of alpenglow here.
— José Knighton