Sunday, June 29, 2014

Indelible: The Platinum Photographs of Larry McNeil and Will Wilson

Where: National Museum of the American Indian

When: January 15, 2015

I really like the Sealaska Gallery on the 2nd floor of the NMAI.  It's big enough to hold a small show comfortably, and I don't feel as if I have to rush through to see everything.

Continuing with the photography theme from my last post, this display is photographs of Native Americans, created with a platinum print process.  In the 19th century, photographers used this medium to take photos of Native Americans, to depict them as a vanishing race.  The process allows the photographer to "take the edge off" the subject, to allow a certain fuzzy quality to creep in, to create a romantic feeling of nostalgia for the end of an era.

Many Native Americans today have negative feelings about these depictions, and these two artists use the method in order to reclaim it for their own, to show Native Americans as they truly are, not as outsiders might wish them to be.

An excellent example is the photograph here, of Nakotah La Rance by Will Wilson.  Although shown at rest, he is squatting on the stool, as if ready to spring into action.  He's shown with a traditional dance hoop around his shoulder, but also with earphones, a game console and some Japanese manga.  This is not your great-grandfather's "Indian."  Far from vanishing, this race of people still exists, still adapts to new cultural influences, still keeps traditional practices alive.

Verdict: Yet another reminder that photography is not the objective medium we'd like to think it is.  Well worth a look if you are interested in photography or Native American history.

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