She Sang Me a Good Luck Song: The California Indian Photographs of Dugan Aguilar

Inside California’s Native Communities

Dugan Aguilar (Mountain Maidu/Pit River/Walker River Paiute), a man of few words, speaks his heart through his photography. With nature’s light and a camera, he creates images of indigenous California people, photographs that embody the depth of their subjects’ beauty, strength, and humor. His portraits of people, places, and ceremonies combine the intimacy of family photos with the technical skill of a masterful artist. His photographic works have been exhibited nationally and internationally, and a generation of California Indian people have grown accustomed to seeing his photographs in their homes, museums, and News from Native California. Aguilar’s photos defy the romanticized and melodramatic images by which Native people are often depicted. Ranging from portraits of military veterans, basket makers, and dancers to meditative landscapes, Aguilar’s work documents—and contributes to—the perseverance and renewal of Native California’s living, vibrant cultures.

Advance Praise

“Being a Native American artist is to know the traditional view of the world celebrated in ceremony and song. The myths, legends and designs and symbols—plants, trees, animals, fish, and fowl help establish a spiritual relationship to the Earth. Dugan Aguilar’s family and the communal elders have helped him understand that difficulties and hardships can be overcome by love and patience. The images made by Dugan remind us that there are things that never change, and are worth remembering and believing.”—Frank LaPena, Nomtipom Wintu artist, professor emeritus, California State University, Sacramento


“Dugan’s photography embodies the ancient spirits of giving and sharing; it’s visual poetry that resonates through time with the land and the people gently, yet assertively.… Beautiful and insightful photographic storytelling for all people of the world.”—Larry McNeil, Tlingit photographer and scholar, professor of photography, Boise State University

About the Author and Photographer

Dugan Aguilar is a Mountain Maidu/Pit River/Walker River Paiute photographer whose work celebrates the perseverance of Native American culture. He has exhibited his work at the Institute for Indian Arts, the California State Indian Museum, and the C.N. Gorman Museum. He is the recipient of several awards from the Santa Fe Indian Market.
Inspired by Native artists who create beauty from the intersection of history, culture, and life experience, Theresa Harlan became an advocate for them through her work as a curator and writer on contemporary Native art and photography. She administered programs for the California Arts Council and directed the Carl Gorman Museum in the Native American studies department at UC Davis. Harlan is Kewa (enrolled member of Santo Domingo Pueblo), and is the adopted daughter of Liz Campigli Harlan (Coast Miwok, Tomales Bay) and John Harlan. She lives in Vallejo, California, with her husband.