I recently photographed the Quixotic journey of Joey Allen, a Navajo Indian who embarked on a mission to ride his bicycle from Flagstaff, Arizona, to Monument Valley, Utah, campaigning for “Madonna for President.”
The idea, at the least, is improbable – especially in an era when trolling one’s political adversaries from the anonymity of a computer screen is easier than taking a physical stand for something you truly believe. The story of Joey runs deep: a convicted felon, former drug addict and the victim of a drunk driving collision that severely crippled his hip, Joey is an unlikely hero for the rest of us… a man who sees courage in people who stand up publicly to the injustices of a broken political system, however misconstrued his interpretation of Madonna’s 2017 speech in Washington happens to be. Armed only with a pup tent he painted, black shoe polish, extra Argyle socks and other essentials, like tape, Joey departed Flagstaff, along with his cane and a loose-leaf notebook for collecting signatures, on a quest that concluded 200 miles later at the place of his birth – in part, over the very land the U.S. government forced his people to march during the Long Walk to Fort Sumner in 1864. As his self-appointed documentarian, it was important for me to capture the essence of Joey’s undertaking… the emotion, physical sacrifice and single-minded purpose of elevating a pop culture icon to an elected role as the global spokesperson of moral conscience (times have certainly changed). Along the way he taught me the importance of having a larger, noble purpose in life… of speaking to people you don’t know concerning matters that they, too, may care deeply about. Which helped me to reach my own conclusion at the end of the journey: this is a compelling human-interest story that belies the perceived apathy of Native Americans, and Americans at large – and speaks to the capacity of the human spirit, even if it’s contained in the crippled body of a Navajo man stabbing at windmills.
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