Photography Resume, Nicholas Hellmuth.

Nicholas Hellmuth has been photographing Maya ruins since he traveled to the Maya site of Palenque in Mexico in 1961 with a Leica III-G. He has been engaged in professional photography and archaeological field work since 1965, the year he discovered the 1200 year old Tomb of the Jade Jaguar at Tikal. He graduated from Harvard cum laude with a thesis filled with his photographs of the burial crypt and royal offerings at Tikal (the thesis was awarded a summa cum laude). His first exhibit of photographs was at Harvard, an exhibit of his many summers of photographing Maya pyramids, temples, and palaces of Puuc architectural style throughout Yucatan. He never took any course in photography: he learned from experience (such as when anthropologist and photographer Karl G. Heider offered blunt remarks on what needed to be improved on the photos in the exhibit (Heider was a professor of anthropology at Harvard in those years).

Nicholas Hellmuth Resume
Here Nicholas serves as a refuge for a spider monkey in Peten, Guatemala, that someone has scared. The monkey is escaping something to one side, but is now reassured once he grabs ahold of Nicholas. This was in the 1980’s, along the Rio Usumacinta.

In 1969 he received a MA degree in anthropology from Brown University with a thesis on the art of the Teotihuacan empire of Mexico and its influence on Maya art of Guatemala and Honduras. This same year he formed the Foundation for Latin American Anthropological Research (FLAAR) as a tax exempt, non-profit research and educational institute to initiate a multi-year project to map the Classic period ruins of Yaxha, Peten, Guatemala (a site with the largest Teotihuacan stela in the entire Maya area). Dr Hellmuth has been the Director for over five decades.

Hellmuth was excavator and photographer for a Harvard University Peabody Museum expedition to the Peruvian coastal desert in 1967. He undertook photography and excavation again in Peru during 1968 at Inca period fortress sites in the high Andes for a Yale University project. Professor Thomas Patterson (director of both the Peru projects that Nicholas worked for) arranged for Hellmuth to be a research associate at Yale 1968-1969. During 1971 he was awarded an appointment as Visiting Fellow in the Dept. of History of Art, Yale University.

Director of the Yaxha Archaeological Expedition to Guatemala in 1971-1974, Hellmuth also led expeditions to map the ancient Maya sites of Nakum and Topoxte Island. His discoveries in archaeology have led to being a guest on CBS-TV, on an ABC-TV special on Maya archaeology, and on the PBS Odyssey program on the Maya. He has also served as staff consultant for Pyramid Films for their documentary on Maya archaeology of Belize. His work at Yaxha and Nakum was filmed by NBC-TV (by the famous documentary film maker Pierre Dominique Gasseau, Academy Award winner for The Sky Above the Mud Below).

In 1980-82 he again held a three-semester Visiting Fellowship at Yale, concurrent with a one semester Fellowship from the Organization of American States (OAS). His topic was to research the problem of grave robbing at Maya sites that he had noticed while arriving at Yaxha and Nakum to map these ancient cities. Dr Hellmuth subsequently completed a five-year honorary position at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, Yale University, arranged by Dr. Michael Coe. His focus was analysis of tropical flora and fauna pictured in ancient Maya art (especially felines, reptiles, monkeys, birds, and insects). Hellmuth is also an accomplished nature photographer.

Hellmuth's ability to wear the ancient stone ballgame yokes in the pre-Columbian form of their sacred ballgames has led him to be filmed twice, for WBCC-TV in the Maya ballcourt of Copan Ruinas, Honduras, and subsequently in a Mexican ballcourt for a Maya show on the Discovery Channel, a program in the series "Arthur C. Clark's Mysterious Universe."

In 1986 Hellmuth finished his Ph.D. in art history at Karl-Franzens Universitaet, Graz, Austria, on the iconography of Early Classic Maya underworld gods of Guatemala. This opus has been published in a 2-volume English edition and a coffee table bilingual (German-English) edition as Monster und Menschen in der Maya-Kunst, published by Akademische Druck u.Verlagsanstalt, Graz, Austria. This dissertation and the resulting book were filled with his own photographs.

As a professional photographer, Dr Hellmuth's records of art and archaeology are increasingly being used for both scientific and popular publications. National Geographic Society used a selection of more than a dozen of Hellmuth’s photographs to illustrate their 1978 hardcover special publication "The Mysterious Maya," by George and Gene Stuart.

Nicholas Hellmuth Resume
Hasselblad magazine has published Nicholas’s photographs of Classic Maya architecture. Hellmuth’s photos are on the front covers of other books.

His photographs of Theobroma cacao are in books on chocolate by Dr Michael Coe (Yale University) and Sophie Coe; and in a Japanese book on chocolate by Dr Yoshiho Yasugi, MINPAKU, Osaka, Japan (Nicholas was a visiting research professor at this national museum of ethnology in Japan in the late 1990’s, as an instructor in digital scanning of photographs that had previously been taken with Leica, Hasselblad, and Linhof). Hellmuth is the only ethnobotanist who has found and photographed Theobroma angustifolium in Guatemala. And his photographs of another native Maya cacao, pataxte, Theobroma bicolor, have been used to illustrate books on Lacandon ethnobotany (by Suzanne Cook, 2016).

Many Japanese publishers have recognized the quality of his photographic work. Hellmuth-FLAAR photographs of Maya art or architecture have appeared in Japanese books on chocolate, on ancient music, and in lavish Japanese coffee table books on pre-Columbian civilizations. One Japanese publisher hired Hellmuth for 18 months to do photography on monumental pyramids, palaces, ballcourts, sculptures of Aztec, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Mixtec, Zapotec, and Classic Veracruz, in addition to Mayan areas.

His photographs of Maya archaeology and associated tropical ecology have been exhibited in Austria, Germany, Guatemala, and across America.

Until BCC decided to withdraw from international multicultural programs, Dr Hellmuth was Visiting Professor at Brevard Community College for six years. He was also a research professor at Rollins College (Florida), at BGSU (Ohio), and Universidad Francisco Marroquin (Guatemala). Often he was a visiting research professor at two different universities simultaneously since his experience in Japan resulted in Hellmuth being an early adapter of advanced digital imaging technology, both photography and wide-format inkjet printers.

Professor Hellmuth's photography equipment in the 1990’s included 3 Leicas, 2 Nikons, 3 Hasselblads, a Linhof 4x5, a Linhof 8x10, plus countless lenses and accessories. FLAAR. Also has a Seitz Super RoundShot, the best 70mm film-based panorama and rollout camera in the world. Overall, FLAAR. has unusually sophisticated camera equipment for an archaeology research institute. The digital equipment available is pictured on our four web sites, and includes a professional studio too large to list here.

On the basis of his international recognition and the arsenal of equipment with which he has experience, Hellmuth was selected by Dicomed and then Better Light to be the beta-tester for its prototype tri-linear scanner digital turntable rollout camera system in the late 1990’s.

The entire subsequent 30 years Nicholas continues to do photography, 100% with digital cameras. He has tested and evaluated Phase One, Hasselblad, Kodak and Leaf medium format digital camera backs. He was awarded a Kodak prize to be flown to the Greek Olympics in 2004. Presently (2017-2019) he compares and evaluates his Canon EOS 1DX Mark II with Nikon D5: the two best quality and most sophisticated “35mm full-frame digital cameras.” Note that FLAAR always utilizes more than one of the top brands: you can better evaluate the advantages and strong points of each camera brand and model if you have personal experience with each model (he also has a Nikon D810 and will be acquiring the 61 megapixel Sony Alpha 7R IV to evaluate mirrorless cameras).

Photography of Mayan plants, insects, waterbirds August 2018-July 2019

Once a month we drive 1100 kilometers round trip to the distant rain forests of Parque Nacional Yaxha Nakum Naranjo to work together with the team at this park (archaeologist Leonel Ziesse, biologist Mario Vasquez, biologist Lorena Lobos) to find, photograph, and identify flora and fauna. When in the Naranjo sector we also coordinate with archaeologist Vilma Fialko. One goal is to document that there is more to see in this large national park than only monumental Mayan pyramids, temples, palaces, and ballcourts. Hellmuth found and photographed one species of aquatic orchid in an area very popular for local crocodiles; Q’eqchi’ Mayan assistant Senaida Ba found a second Genus and species of water-related orchid in a swamp several months later. Local park ranger Teco (Moises Daniel Perez Diaz) has found dozens of native rain forest plants for this project as has the Naranjo team of Horacio Palacios. So we now have enough photographs of rare and endangered flowering plants and remarkable mushrooms of the biodiverse ecosystems to have awesome photo exhibits available for any natural history museum, botanical garden, university, or orchid or bromeliad society anywhere in the world.

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He does macro photography of pollinating insects; telephoto photography of oropendola birds building meter-tall pendant nests; and specializes in photography of Neotropical flowers, fruits, vegetables and other edible and utilitarian plants of the ancient Mayan people. You can see these photographs of Neotropical jungle plants of Mesoamerica on:

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You can experience his interaction with mammals on

So we continue to be active with photography and will attend Photokina 2020 in Cologne.

Nicholas Hellmuth Resume

FLAAR (USA) and FLAAR Mesoamerica (Guatemala) have several capable photographers: Sofia Monzon, Jaime Leonardo, Erick Flores, and Melanny Quiñonez all started as students at FLAAR in past years and with access to the photography equipment and the fact that Nicholas shares his photography tips, each became a professional photographer. Today Mariale Gutierrez and David Arrivillaga accomplish excellent photography during field trips with Nicholas.


Most recently updated September 2019.
Previously updated April 2011.
Design updated June 26, 2008.