Native Photography: Archive, Canon, Audience, Collection

20110627-124653.jpg I begin this post with a long quote by Veronica Passalacqua from her chapter “Finding Sovereignty through Relocation, published in the 2009 book ‘Visual Currencies: Reflections on Native Photography’ edited by Henrietta Lidchi and Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie. (Sorry, I haven’t figured out how to make the iPad version of wordpress do italics or footnotes yet). “Contemporary Native photography holds the unique distinction of being a genre created, promoted, and mediated by Indigenous artists and authors. It is through exhibitions, artist statements, and publications that photo-based artworks across North America are brought together to constitute the canon’s history and establish a sovereign ‘intellectual space’, for which I will use the term ‘territory’. Whilst independent, this territory is not isolated from institutional and academic discourses. It interacts with these through the medium of exhibitions , most frequently located within anthropological and fine art museums. More recently, web-based archives have emerged as important viewing environments due to their global accessibility by a diverse range of audiences. Indeed, it is through exhibitions and publications (rather than collecting) that that Native photography is most widely known and circulated (Lidchi, ed., 20).”

My initial experience using the Art Stor image database produced some disappointing results. When I searched for Native photography, or even just the terms Native or American Indian, what came up was many hundreds of photographs OF Natives, not BY Natives. I was an early user, back in 2005, and complained about it. Art Stor made some changes and now there are many images of historical objects made by indigenous peoples that turn up with those searches, but the database of photographic works is still primarily anthropological and studio portraits by non-Natives from before 1930. They have a few photos by Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Shelley Niro, but not much else. I’d love to see that particular mainstream teaching resource expanded to include more Indigenous photographers… And I’d like them to be easily searchable, too. I found myself thinking about how crucial exhibitions and their catalogues have been for Native photography. When I teach about the subject, I’m using exhibition catalogues instead of textbooks. I can’t count on having an exhibition on display within a 100 mile radius for a timely field trip. Usually, the exhibitions are quite far away and only last a couple months at best. The exhibition catalogue becomes the most stable way to bring the artwork and issues to my students. When Tsinhnahjinnie brings up the aspect of collecting, she explains in more depth farther along in the essay that it is more common for a collecting audience to come across indigenous art forms that are considered “traditional,” like basketry, pottery, weaving, carving, etc., than to come across photographic work by indigenous artists. It is possible that there could start to be a shift in that pattern this summer, or at least, that’s the hope. In conjunction with SWAIA’s Indian Art Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico this coming August, there will be a juried photo exhibition for the first time. The juried exhibition is being hosted by the New Mexico Museum of Art. Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, Larry McNeil, and Katherine Ware will be selecting works. THE DEADLINE IS JULY 5th. Here is the call for entries: _________________________________________ Call for Entries Hosted by the New Mexico Museum of Art in partnership with the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), the competition and exhibition are designed to encourage Native American artists working with photography to share their recent work with a broad audience of viewers. Artworks will be judged on the basis of vision, technical execution, and cohesiveness as a body of images. All subject matter is welcome. The competition winners will be invited to show their work in an exhibition at the New Mexico Museum of Art, opening August 12, 2011, during SWAIA’s 90th annual Santa Fe Indian Market, as well as in an online version of the show. Jurors: Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie (Diné/Seminole/Muscogee) is an artist serving as Director of the C.N. Gorman Museum at University of California Davis and Associate Professor in the Department of Native American Studies at University of California Davis. Her photographic works have been extensively published and exhibited nationally and internationally. Katherine Ware is curator of photography at the New Mexico Museum of Art. She is a frequent juror and reviewer of contemporary photography and has published numerous books and essays on both historic and contemporary photography. Larry McNeil (Tlingit and Nisgáa) is a scholar and artist serving as professor in the Art Department at Boise State University. He taught previously at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. He is a contributing author to numerous publications and has won many fellowships and awards for his photographs. Artist Eligibility: The competition is open to all Native artists who are enrolled members of federally recognized US and Canadian tribes, nations, first nations and pueblos who work with digital or traditional still photography or two-dimensional mixed-media work that is photo-based. How to Enter: All submissions must be of work made within the past three years. Submissions can be made electronically or through the mail. Please send electronic submissions to For questions about electronic submission, please contact Lisa Morris ( Mail disks to SWAIA Photo Exhibition, P.O. Box 969, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504. The submitted images must be jpegs, no larger than 1960 pixels, with a maximum file size of 1.8 MBs. You may submit up to 12 images. Each submission should include a statement about the work of no more than 200 words. Deadline: All submissions must be received by July 5, 2011. Notification: Winners will be notified by July 13, 2011. All other entrants will be notified thereafter. Winners wishing to participate in the exhibition must send ready-to-hang work to arrive at the museum no later than July 29. Winners will be provided funds for framing and shipping. The art must be sent to the museum framed or ready for installation. Final dimensions are not to exceed 5’ x 5’. Neutral mat colors and simple frames are preferred, unless the style of presentation is integral to the work of art. Glazing must be acrylic – no glass. If the presentation of the art does not meet the museum’s standards, the museum reserves the right to request modification. Artists will receive museum loan agreements for accepted works of art, which must be completed and returned by mail. For general questions about the competition, please contact Kate Ware ( Terms and Conditions: The New Mexico Museum of Art, in consultation with the jurors, reserves the right to select or decline any artwork submitted. By submitting work for consideration, the artist agrees to allow accepted art to be reproduced for publicity and/or educational purposes. Funding is generously provided by Andrew Smith Gallery and Daniel Greenberg and Susan Steinhauser. _________________________________________

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