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Dugan Aguilar (Paiute/Maidu/Pit River) was born in Susanville, California and educated at CSU-Fresno, where, in 1973, he earned a degree in industrial technology and design, as well as the distinction of becoming the first member of his family to graduate from college. Later, he completed additional course work in photography, at the University of Nevada, Reno.

Today, Aguilar—who works primarily in black and white—is broadly acknowledged to be one of the nation's foremost Native American photographers. Aguilar characterizes his work as environmental portraiture and cites the photography of Ansel Adams as an early influence. An exhibit of Adams' work shown in 1973 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor had a profound effect on Aguilar's understanding of the medium of photography,

"I walked in and saw Adams' photograph of aspens, printed 30 by 40 inches. It was gorgeous from 50 feet away, and as you approached, you felt like you were walking into the photograph. Up close, the whites and shadows were so impressive. I decided to strive for being that kind of printer."*

An equally important and enduring source of artistic inspiration is the Indian world. Aguilar's ability to produce imagery that simultaneously refracts both the beauty of the natural world and his own Native heritage is just one basis for his wide acclaim. Over the course of the last decade, he has increasingly turned his attention to Native people, traditions, and art forms, producing unparalleled portraits of contemporary California Indian veterans, dancers and basket weavers that will be valued, for both their artistic sensitivity and documentary eloquence, by many generations to come.

Aguilar has a far more immediate goal for his portraiture; he wants "to show that we as California Native people are alive and well." His art also brings some very personal rewards: "I'm honored to have gained the trust of the Indian community. Everyday I learn something new about my culture and my people. It's a gift."*

Aguilar's work has been featured in numerous regional and national shows, including recent exhibitions at the Crocker Art Museum and the Wheelwright Museum in Santa Fe. A graphic artist for the Sacramento Bee, his award-winning photography has also appeared in countless publications, including News from Native California; The Dirt is Red Here: Art and Poetry from Native California (Heyday Press 2002) and Deeper than Gold: A Guide to Indian Life in the Sierra Region (forthcoming from Heyday Press), with text by Brian Bibby and photographs by Dugan Aguilar.

 

*excerpts from "Reflections of a People", by Victoria Dalkey, Sacramento Bee (August 18, 2001).