Research · Looking for authenticity: indigenous photography
These three images are of Native American Indians, taken at the turn of the 20th century. It is in fact remarkably difficult to find a less posed and more as it were candid image of a native American Indian which in a way illustrates the dominance of Curtis’s work in the field in general.
To the left:
‘White Bull, Frank Fiske photo: True West archives’
In the middle:
‘Red Tomahawk, Frank Fiske: True West archives’
To the right:
– Courtesy Library of Congress
These images, all taken from the same source, but different photographers, Illustrate to me the change in photo style between candid and staged. The staged Indians fit the stereotype of warrior like, bold and brave warriors. The last image (To the right) is the work of Timothy H. O’Sullivan who is purported to have produced some of the less romanticised and everyday images that we might consider more in line with documentary as opposed to portraiture photography. The other images are produced by Frank Fiske who essentially follows the romantic tradition after Curtis. Their style is almost identical. (all images from link below).
My conclusion as far as images of the native Americans goes is that it is not inevitable that the Indigenous Americans were shot in a romantic light, but rather was informed by a cultural outlook, perhaps one that the Americans themselves had of themselves as the great founders and pioneers of a new land.
O’ Sullivan’s image does show a more everyday and banal face to the tribes that lived in the wild spaces of outback America. It is useful that we have something to juxtapose the otherwise standard hero shot.
- T.W. Editors, Truewest, The 100 best photos of American Indians [online] https://truewestmagazine.com/american-indian-historical-photos/ [accessed, June 2020]