Friday, June 24, 2011

Buffalo Bill's Wild West Warriors

Where: Ripley Center (International Gallery)

When: through June 15, 2011

The photographer Gertrude Kasebier was a leading portrait photographer in her day. As she sat in her studio, she looked out her window and saw the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show parading down the street past her building. Struck by the faces of the Native Americans among the group, she decided to photograph some of the Sioux.

These photographs were not made or used for commercial purposes; they were intimate portraits of people in the midst of great change. The world as they had known it for centuries was at an end. The photographs of children were especially moving; they look old beyond their years. Kasebier had to win the trust of the Sioux, as many of them were wary of photography. Some of the men would only sit in profile. Interesting to compare were the shots of the same man, one of him in ceremonial garb, and one of him in "plain clothes."

Some other artifacts are included in the show, in addition to the photos. One was the headdress worn by Chief Iron Tail when fighting Custer at the Little Big Horn. I'm always fascinated when I see a "piece of history" like this. To think that this item was actually at that event - it's a way to connect with history.

The Ripley is an odd space. The entry is on the Mall, between the Castle and the Freer. For years, I had walked past this little building, thinking it was some sort of information booth. When I went in the first time, I was amazed that to find an entire underground world! You go down stairs and an escalator (there's also elevator access) and walk through a large area containing exhibit space, offices and a theater to find the International Gallery. It's a lousy exhibit space - there's no natural light and the ductwork is exposed, but they do have interesting shows there.

Verdict: Hope you had a chance to see this, as the show is over now. I had never heard of Kasebier before, but I was quite impressed with the relationship she cultivated over years of correspondence with the Sioux she photographed.

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