Photographs made by Paul Beer and Felix DiGiovanni depicting indigenous people, primarily the Guahibo, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vaupés region of Eastern Colombia.
Scope and Contents:
The collection consists of 85 photographic prints mounted on
paperboard, with annotations made by Genevieve Bellis, wife of Tom Bellis. Also included are 18 enlargements mounted on black paper with annotations (not Bellis') in Spanish, and a number written on the back. With one exception (Item 29), the enlargements are of the photographs mounted on paperboard.
The photographs depict the indigenous people of eastern Colombia, primarily the Guahibo tribe, as well as the natural and cultural features of the Vichada region. Other tribes represented in the photographs include the Piapoco, Guanano, Banibo, Casanare, Guayabero, and Tucano tribes. The location depicted in the images is in the Vichada region, unless otherwise indicated.
The photographs show the customs and daily activities of the tribes, including bathing, washing clothes, cooking, fishing, hunting, making arrows and dugout canoes, house-building, creating water pitchers from clay, weaving cloth from the bark of trees, and preparing for ceremonies.
Biographical / Historical:
Felix V. DiGiovanni (ca. 1913-1990) was an American engineer, writer, photographer, and filmmaker. He was raised in the Bronx and graduated with an engineering degree from The City College of New York in 1933. As a young man, he traveled throughout Colombia, Venezuela, and Brazil, and later became interested in documenting the eastern plains of Colombia, known as Los Llanos, as well as its inhabitants. In the late 1930s, he returned to Colombia to film a documentary on the indigenous people of the Vaupés region.
DiGiovanni's partner in the expedition was Paul Beer. Beer (1904-1979) was a German photographer active in Bogota, Colombia, in the late 1920s.
By 1941, DiGiovanni's documentary film about the Guahibo was completed. In 1944 he returned to Colombia to work with the U.S. Cinchona Mission, which comprised a team of scientists travelling to the Andes region to find cinchona trees, whose bark produces the alkaloid quinine, used for treating malaria.
DiGiovanni met Tom Bellis during this time. Bellis (1907-1993) was an officer with the Food and Drug Administration. From October 1942 until December 1945, he worked for the Board of Economic Warfare in Bogota, Colombia at the Instituto Nacional de Higiene Samper-Martinez. Here, he directed a laboratory which analyzed cinchona bark. In November 1945, Bellis purchased this set of photographs, along with 28 Guahibo artifacts, from DiGiovanni.
Felix DiGiovanni returned to New York in 1946 and became a mechanical engineer with a major oil company. In 1960, he completed a draft of a manuscript about his experiences with the Guahibo, titled The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. He intended to publish it and also produce a Spanish translation, but he died December 31, 1990, before it could be finished. In 1994, Pauline DiGiovanni, DiGiovanni's widow, published 40 copies of the manuscript in English.
After the expedition with DiGiovanni, Paul Beer's photography focused primarily on architectural and industrial themes. He lived in Bogota until his death in 1979.
The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) holds the Felix V. DiGiovanni collection from Colombia, collection ID number NMAI.AC.300, donated by DiGiovanni's widow, Pauline DiGiovanni. It contains prints and negatives different from the NAA's collection, a 16mm film, and the book The Call of the Curassow and the Land of the Guahibo Indians. NMAI also has objects collected by DiGiovanni, including baskets, tools, necklaces, woven bags, hammocks, arrows, and pottery.
Along with the photographs, Genevieve Bellis donated 28 objects from the Guahibo tribe, which are held in the National Museum of Natural History's anthropology collections. These form accession number 400216, and include wooden bows, a woven hammock, arrows, a water jug, ceremonial necklaces, a gourd rattle, a reed tube rattle, a small gourd containing curare, incised spindle whorls, and bead necklaces.
The photographs were donated by Genevieve Bellis, widow of Tom Bellis, in 1995.