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"150 Years of Photography from the National Museum of the American Indian's Archive on View in New York"
2001-07-22 until 2002-07-21
Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian
New York, NY, USA

Spirit Capture: Native Americans and the Photographic Image features nearly 200 photographs from the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian's vast archive of 125,000 images. From early daguerreotypes to contemporary color slides, Spirit Capture surveys the development of photography and the history of Native American life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Approximately 20 objects from the museum's collections and nearly 20 contemporary photographs and artworks are included in the exhibition to help communicate Native perspectives on the cultural history and experiences of Native peoples in the past century and a half.

If there is one dimension of the vast National Museum of the American Indian collection that helps us understand why we are who we are—that brings into focus, literally, the history of the Native peoples of this hemisphere—it is our incredible photographic archive, says W. Richard West (Southern Cheyenne), director of the National Museum of the American Indian.

Since the first known photograph of a Native American was made in Great Britain in 1845, depictions and interpretations of depictions of Native peoples have evolved to reveal greater understandings about the lives recorded in the images. Photographer, subject and viewer are considered in the exhibition as the curators, Richard W. Hill Sr. (Tuscarora) and Natasha Bonilla-Martinez, seek to provide understanding of the people in the photographs, while examining the roles and motives of those who created the images.

The photographs reflect a fourth presence, as well, that of George Gustav Heye (1874–1957), the collector who founded the Museum of the American Indian, now the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, and who commissioned or acquired most of the images in the museum's archives. The exhibition also invites Native American photographers and artists, inheritors of this legacy of image making, to offer their responses to the photographs and the ideas they represent.

The exhibition offers six media installations, including three interactives and a slide presentation. Images of the Romantic Indian often portrayed in moving pictures, beginning with the earliest ones from the 1890s through the 1940s, include footage of wild west shows, expositions and pageants, and cultural tourism. Fabricated images of Native peoples are juxtaposed with images of real communities, revealing the hidden, often urban Indian experience. In addition, a web based interactive features a dramatized conversation between a Native child and photographer Edward S. Curtis.


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