"Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field" Presents Contemporary Native Experiences from the Inside


March 25, 2020

Procession for the Feast Day of Santo Tomás. Abiquiú, New Mexico, 2019. (© 2020 Russel Albert Daniels)

The exhibition Developing Stories: Native Photographers in the Field presents photo essays by Native photojournalists Russel Albert Daniels (Diné descent and Ho-Chunk descent) and Tailyr Irvine (Salish and Kootenai), created in collaboration with the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian. Their essays reflect the work of a new generation of Native professional photographers who are motivated by two objectives: combating lingering stereotypes of Native Americans and pursuing what they call modern Indigenous stories-stories of contemporary Native people rooted in their lived experiences. These stories, as the photographers contend, are underrepresented, if not entirely overlooked, in the media. Deeply concerned with who tells these stories, which fall outside most non-Native Americans' experiences, Daniels and Irvine offer complex, nuanced, and thought-provoking portraits of what it means to be Native in the United States today.

Their work, like that of other socially aware Native photographers, is even more remarkable in light of the fact that (as they know) Native Americans' relationship to photography is steeped in colonialism and its costs. During the 19th century, photography was used as a tool by the dominant society to promote its ideology of Manifest Destiny. Whether they were photographed by the growing cadre of commercial photographers documenting the country's westward expansionism or by members of the Bureau of American Ethnography trying to establish anthropology as a modern academic discipline, Native peoples were overwhelmingly portrayed as a "Vanishing Race," captured in their "native wilds" or posed in photographers' studios with props that would ensure their "Otherness."



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