Wednesday, January 14, 2015


This photo is attributed to Howard King, Canadian.
Many photos of indigenous people are unattributed.
This can cause people to think they just appeared spontaneously.

At the turn of the 19th century into the 20th, the railroads were stretching out across the prairie, inviting the adventurous to see the continent.   Some were artists and others carried cameras, just being developed into an art form.  Many men who learned their skills on the Civil War battlefields looked around for other subjects, the same as the soldiers looked around for other battles.  Google will yield graceful and romantic portrayals of many tribes.  The idea was that the people were doomed and would soon disappear, so that they should be recorded, which gave the photos a scientific spin, something like recording the disappearing plant and animal species of our time.   Of course, indigenous tribes who have never contacted whites still exist, but they are few.  North American indigenous people did not disappear but you might not recognize them.

Edward Curtis

Edward Sheriff Curtis (1868 – 1952) is probably the best known of the men who visited Indians.  His books and display photos are familiar.  At a moment of social criticism and revisionism, the observant realized that the same props were showing up again and again.  Impoverished and desperate, many indigenous people had sold all their wealth to feed their children and had no elegant creations of feathers and beads anymore.  So Curtis and others stocked trunks with materials to put with them in photos.  Seen more as curiosities than art objects at the time, the photos helped to establish them as beautiful and proud, including the iconic eagle feather Sioux bonnet.  The straight-up eagle feather bonnet of the Blackfeet had to be revived, helped by photos.

Walter McClintock

Walter McClintock  (1870-1949)   Many of McClintock’s photos are shown here, plus the following comments:

“Pittsburgh native Walter McClintock graduated from Yale in 1891. In 1896 he traveled west as a photographer for a federal commission investigating national forests. McClintock became friends with the expedition’s Blackfoot Indian scout, William Jackson or Siksikakoan. When the commission completed its field work, Jackson introduced McClintock to the Blackfoot community of northwestern Montana. Over the next twenty years, supported by the Blackfoot elder Mad Wolf, McClintock made several thousand photographs of the Blackfoot, their homelands, their material culture, and their ceremonies.

“Like his contemporary, the photographer Edward Curtis, McClintock believed that Indian communities were undergoing swift, dramatic transformations that might obliterate their traditional culture. He sought to create a record of a life-way that might disappear. He wrote books, mounted photographic exhibitions, and delivered numerous public lectures about the Blackfoot.”   In summer he returned to the rez and lived in a tipi loaned by his friends.  His photos are often just his “neighborhood,” but he also recorded the ceremonial bundles and their contents, which also divided opinion between those who valued the record and those who, like the late Darrell Kipp, thought it was akin to displaying one’s grandmother undressed or those who simply wanted ceremonies to remain secret.

Though McClintock was excoriated -- along with a dozen other investigators -- by a post-modern historian for being parasites on the Indian people (which makes her a parasite on the parasites, I guess), he returned to the Browning area every summer for many years, bringing crates of material goods to his friends.  Bob Scriver’s dad remembered him.  His classic book “The Old North Trail” included photos with sharply observed text and scientific notes.  Many Blackfeet value their copies.

Roland Reed

Roland (Royal Jr.) W. Reed (1864 – 1934), “an American artist and photographer, was part of an early 20th century group of photographers of Native Americans known as pictorialists.  Pictorialists were influenced by the late 19th Century art movement, Impressionism, and their photography was characterized by an emphasis on lighting and focus. Rather than record an image as it was, pictorialists were more interested in re-creating an image as they thought it might have been. Part artist and part scientist, they endeavored to have their re-creations reflect not only the highest artistic value, but unquestioned ethnological accuracy as well.”

Reed often took his models out onto the landscape rather than making studio portraits.  They brought their horses and lodges but I don’t remember seeing any dogs.  So far as ethnology goes, they’re a little anachronistic since by the early 20th century most people were wearing “citizen’s clothes,” often second-hand donations from back east -- which is why they sometimes look as though they just arrived from European tenements.  Their faces were still strong and weathered and some still had long hair until WWI when many served as soldiers.  Bob Scriver used Reed photos as background when he showed his Blackfeet bronzes and painted sculptures.

A Hileman photo of Ice Berg Lake

T. J. (Tomar Jacob) Hileman (1882–1945) was an American photographer who is renowned for his photos of Glacier Park in Montana, and Blackfoot people.  It’s Hileman’s photos taken of the glaciers in Glacier Park that make the comparisons with today’s remnants possible.  Much of his work was portrait busts of important and colorful people.  The photos were used by many artists in the area as the basis for paintings.

In 1911 Hileman moved to Kalispell, Montana to open his own portrait studio. He and Alice Georgeson were the first couple to marry in Glacier National Park in 1913.  Appointed the official photographer for the Great Northern Railway in 1924, Hileman took photos of Glacier National Park and Waterton Lakes National Park in Alberta, Canada, moving bulky camera equipment by packhorse, even at times perching on a narrow ledge to get just the right image on film. He also photographed the Prince of Wales Hotel in Waterton, Alberta, which was built by the railway. In 1926 Hileman opened photo-finishing labs in both Glacier Park Lodge and Many Glacier Hotel, which were convenient for tourists who could drop off their film evenings and pick up their prints the next morning.”

Tom Magee's indelible photo of Calf Shirt with a live rattlesnake 

Magee, Thomas Benjamin  (1862-1930) took many of the photos in William E. Farr’s picture book “The Reservation Blackfeet, 1882-1945.”  Searching for information about him revealed that he was THREE Magees, whose photos are archived at the U of Lethbridge in Alberta.  There is enough information to make a second post tomorrow.    Rather than writing another French post-modern critique by white people, it may be time for the tribal people themselves to compose a book reflecting on their relatives and their representation, as well as the scientific/artistic assumptions of the photographers and the times in which they lived.  But it's good to know that the Magees were "insiders."

(A tip of the hat to Sid Gustafson, whose "tweets" brought up this subject.)

No comments: