Confronting Life (and Death) Through the Lens of a Camera

Shasheen Balatche

Most students come to the Institute of American Indian Arts to expand their creativity by  practicing and experimenting with their chosen mediums. There are many stories told through the paintings, drawings, and photographs displayed along the walls of the academic building.

Black-and-white photographs of tombstones, graves, and monuments can be found on a wall near the photography room. They cascade from images of the Virgin de Guadalupe and angelic monuments, to domino-like headstones found in the Santa Fe National Cemetary, to headstones of ancestors found in the photographer’s reservation, Mescalero Apache, NM.

The title of the collection is called Graveyards have “dominoes” that fall into “broken teeth” and ends with a few “Balatches” and the photographer is Shasheen Balatche.

Balatche photographed the gravestones and monuments during her midterm exams hoping to get a good grade. In the beginning, she wanted to photograph certain people on campus, but after finding out they were too shy she decided to change her subject.

“Graves, monuments, and tombstones don’t move,” Balatche says. “They look fine the way they are.”

After photographing in Santa Fe, New Mexico, she traveled to Durango, Colo., to photograph some more and then back to her home in Mescalaro Apache, NM, to photograph family headstones. Balatche found that all of the cemeteries had a peaceful quality to them.

“I was at the Santa Fe National Cemetery and I sat between two headstones,” Balatche says. “No one was texting or talking. Everyone was away and it was just me…thinking.”

Some may attribute the photographs to the macabre or the depressing. The thoughts of death and the idea that no matter what you do or accomplish, you’ll end up the same: in a graveyard.

Balatche doesn’t feel the subject is dark. She has been around death for such a long time, even going to a cousin’s funeral when she was very young.

“Everything comes to an end,” Balatche says. “I knew this all at a young age.”

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