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Helga Teiwes

Video of an Interview with Helga Teiwes, a photographer who worked on archaeology projects in the U.S. Southwest. Helga photographed Snaketown during excavation, as well as Indigenous artists and families. She describes how she got into archaeology and how her career developed. She discusses that her photos are mostly archived at the Arizona State Museum and at the Smithsonian.

Helga Kulbe Teiwes was born in Büderich, near Düsseldorf, in Germany in 1930. In 1950 Teiwes began a trade apprenticeship in photography under Master photographer Erna Hehmke-Winterer, a specialist in black and white portraiture, architectural and industrial photography. In 1957 Teiwes earned her master’s degree in photography and worked as an industrial photographer in Düsseldorf until she emigrated to New York in 1960. During her four years in New York City, Teiwes worked as a darkroom worker, an assistant photographer for Cartier Jewelers and as a transparency retoucher. She also continued to build her portfolio through free-lance work. In 1964, a trip to Mesa Verde inspired Teiwes to seek work in the Southwest. The same year she was hired by Dr. Emil Haury of the University of Arizona to photograph his excavation of Snaketown on the Gila River Indian Reservation. Following Snaketown, Teiwes was hired as a museum photographer for the Arizona State Museum (ASM) at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She was also sought after for other archaeological projects during the 1960s and 1970s to take publication and studio shots. During this time, Teiwes developed a deep interest in the people and cultures of the Southwest and spent a significant amount of time on reservations building personal relationships among the Hopi, Apache, Tohono O’dham and Diné (Navajo) among others. Teiwes took a particular interest in documenting Native artists and the work they produced, including basket weavers, potters, jewelers and carvers. Teiwes also worked to capture everyday life among the Native people of the Southwest in addition to documenting special events like the Apache coming of age ceremony and the Tohono O’odham Saguaro Cactus harvest. Teiwes retired from the Arizona State Museum in 1993 but continued to work as a freelance photographer and writer in Tuscon.

Throughout her career Teiwes’s photographs and essays were published nationally and internationally. Her photographic study Navajo was published by the Swiss publisher U. Bar Varlag in 1991 and published in English in 1993. Her books Kachina Dolls: The Art of the Hopi Carvers and Hopi Basket Weaving: Artistry in Natural Fibers were published by the University of Arizona Press in 1991 and 1996. From October 2003 to June 2004, the Arizona State Museum held an exhibition titled “With an Eye on Culture: The Photography of Helga Teiwes” highlighting the broad scope of her career.

In 2013, Teiwes donated her collection of personal photographs, not taken for the Arizona State Museum, to the National Museum of the American Indian, Archive Center. Teiwes’s photographs taken for the Arizona State Museum are housed in the ASM’s photographic archives.