Monday, December 7, 2015

Humanity in Photography of the North American Indian

Humanity in the Photography of the North American Indian

Saturday, December 12, 2015, 1:00 p.m.
Library of Michigan
702 W. Kalamazoo Street
Lansing, MI 48933

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing in partnership with the Library of Michigan is sponsoring a program on the early photography of the American Indian at 1:00 p.m., Saturday, December 12, at the Library of Michigan, located at 702 West Kalamazoo.

The program is being held in conjunction with the photo exhibit "From Sepia to Selfies; 150 years of Lansing Photographic History” featuring more than 300 professional and vernacular photographs of life in Lansing. The exhibit is free and will be on display until December 30.

Photographic collector and seller Doug Price of Ann Arbor will present “Humanity in the Photography of the North American Indian” and will display and describe the context of original photographs by numerous early 20th century photographers including Edward Curtis, Frank A. Rhinehart, Karl Moon and Grace Chandler Burns, a Michigan photographer who at the turn of twentieth century shot photographs in and around Harbor Springs and Petoskey of Indians performing in the Hiawatha Pageant. (Hiawatha pageants were dramatized enactments of Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" performed by American Indians in the early 20th century for the tourist market.) Chandler was a photographer in Petoskey from 1899-1923 before moving to California.

Chandler also shot photographs of American Indian women going about their daily chores, Price said.

Price said that he will display original photographs from his collection that are representative of each photographer and provide the context within they were shot.

He said photographs of this type were virtually lost in time until the 1970s when Edward Curtis was rediscovered.

Curtis and the other famous photographers of that era worked in a technique called pictorialist photography which stressed the beauty of an image rather than its realism.

Price said pictorialist photography is sometimes criticized because the photographs were highly stylized and often posed for dramatic effect. Photographs were manipulated and retouched and often hand colored. Pictorialist photography was popularized by Edward Steichen as a way to put photography on the same plain as fine art.

Price began his interest in collecting and selling photography while working for the old Jocundry’s Books in East Lansing after he purchased a collection of Curtis photographs brought to his attention by a customer. He has bought, sold and collected prints since.

He believes what critics of pictorialist photographs often overlook is the photographers also shot as much as possible American Indians in everyday life going about work and recreational activities.

Curtis in particular was meticulous about Indian lore and life and did recordings, sketches and language interpretation. Curtis also allowed the particular Indians to choose their own traditional dress and artifacts to be photographed with.

“Some of his photography was the only record of some rituals which at the time were banned by the federal government. He was allowed by the Hopi to photograph the Snake Dance ceremony,” he said.

"Photographers who recorded traditional American Indian rituals and culture saw the value and beauty of cultures that were, at the time, largely discounted by most Americans. Their work is invaluable to historians and collectors alike," said HSGL President Valerie Marvin.

The Historical Society of Greater Lansing’s exhibit “From Sepia to Selfies: 150 years of Lansing Photographic History” is on display until December 30 on the fourth floor of the Library of Michigan. The exhibit is open during regular Library hours 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. weekdays and the second Saturday of the month, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.