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NMSU photojournalist's works selected for juried photography exhibit

Sterling Trantham began documenting indigenous religious ceremonies in the western highlands of Guatemala 10 years ago.

Martin Nicolas, of Zaloma, Guatemala prays at the Altar of San Simon, in the community of Zunil near Quetzaltenango. (Photo by Sterling Trantham, copyright, 2005)

The assistant professor in New Mexico State University's journalism department calls it a lifelong project.

Now two photos from that project have been selected for the 2005 International Fine Art Exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Fort Collins, Colo. Only 50 of the 2,686 photos submitted from around the world will be shown in the museum's Center for Fine Art Photography beginning Friday and running through Dec. 23. The other 48 photos are from 26 other photographers in 24 countries.

"We live in such an instant-gratification culture," Trantham said, adding that often people don't realize the significance of lifelong documentary work among indigenous people.

"It's a testimony to how the indigenous people of the Americas kept their religious ceremonies alive and did not surrender to the inquisition in the Americas by Spaniards whose goal was to instill their religion into the lives of these people. One of the things the conquistadors did was to destroy religious sites and temples, knock them to the ground and build churches on top of them. These people were worshiping in their ways since before the time of Christ."

"In the historical sense," Trantham said, "my work bears witness to the fact these people have been able to retain their faith, through the development of hybrid religions, which I have been documenting."

Trantham has returned every year to work in five Guatemalan villages in the western highlands to nurture the relationships he has developed with the natives.

"It's still a dangerous place. For 31 years there was a civil war in that country. Now there is a problem of kidnapping for ransom," he said.

He also fears for the friends he made during the past decade. Hurricane Rita battered the region and massive mudslides resulted.

"I've had no direct word," Trantham said. "But, I'm sure I lost many friends in that disaster. Many villages in the region are covered with mud and the last I heard, there were 2,000 dead in the area where I work."

Trantham was the National Geographic Faculty Fellow for 2001 and served at National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C., in the Photographic Division of the National Geographic Magazine. He teaches photojournalism, print media design and Introduction to Mass Media Writing. He earned his Master of Fine Arts in photography at NMSU in 1998.

As a working photojournalist in the 1980s and 1990s, his work was published widely: New York Newsday, Newsweek, USA Today, London Today, Omni, Sports Illustrated, The Los Angeles Times, Sporting News, The Chicago Tribune, among others. His award-winning documentary work from Guatemala was recently exhibited at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Art in Santa Fe.