Friend Lynn and I went to a patron reception on Friday night at the Seattle Art Museum, a lecture followed by a chance to see the new exhibit, Double Exposure. The exhibit features early 20th century photographs by Edward S. Curtis, and more current work by Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, and Will Wilson. Curtis was a white guy enamored of Indian culture; he spent 30 years photographing it. Curtis died in 1952. The latter three are Native Americans, currently working.
The underlying creative tension in the exhibit is how white people see/saw Native American culture v. how those within the culture see themselves.
The first Native American figure I knew as a child was Tonto, loyal sidekick to the Lone Ranger. In the context of this exhibit, Tonto was a white people’s image of Native American, not a figure that Native Americans might have put forward of themselves.
The lecturer, Curator of Native American Art at SAM, addressed the question of how Native Americans feel about Curtis’ work. She said they are happy to have the often quite wonderful photographs of their ancestors and the culture of the time. But they see the photographs with very different eyes, and have a very different experience of them, than white people do.
Here are two of the Curtis images I liked the best. The elderly woman is a princess, daughter of a chief and much revered by her clan.