…In some cases, the indigenous people were the commissioners of the photos; in others, they were props for a romanticized version of themselves sold to an audience nearly rabid for “exotic Indian” imagery.The Likeness House was, to the First Peoples of the Pacific Northwest in the late 19th century, the photo studio — the place where they would go to get a likeness of themselves.

Dave Obee:The early photographers who captured images of these people were doing a favour for them, to be sure, but there is a lasting benefit from their work. They ventured far from their studios, visiting aboriginal communities and taking photographs of the people they encountered, as well as their surroundings. They helped preserve a sense of what life was like during the early days of contact with the whites who were starting to settle the land. These First Peoples were hard-working and industrious. They were also, at times, playful and willing to go along with whatever the photographers had in mind. That was not always for the best, because it tended to distort our view. Read more:

On a winter’s day in 1889, Tsimshian Chief Arthur Wellington Clah went to a photography studio in Victoria to have his portrait taken. “Rebekah ask if I going likeness house,” Chief Clah wrote in his diary, “So I go, to give myself likeness. Rebekah stand longside me.”

"Savard writes in his introduction that he does not wish to offer an opinion on colonialism, or to speak for the subjects of the photographs. Instead, his detailed captions use empirical evidence to tell the stories behind the images, including the misrepresentations."

On the American side of the border there was an equal if not more intense preoccupation: Edward S. Curtis’s legacy was a monumental, heroic and theatrical record of the American Indian and their recollected and imagined way of life before the white man. From 1900 to 1914, his mastery of the grandest pictorial style and technique in his photogravures and silver and platinum prints was rivaled only by the most elegant prints of Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz. Between 1898 and 1928 he made over 40,000 negatives of more than 80 Indian tribes west of the Mississippi and in Alaska. Working in collaboration with many tribal members Curtis created an ethno-historical account combined with photographic notions of character portraiture, environmental portraiture and classical romanticism.

George Horse Capture:Such a massive project is almost incomprehensible in this day and age. In addition to the constant struggle for financing, Curtis required the cooperation of the weather, vehicles, mechanical equipment, skilled technicians, scholars and researchers and the Indian tribes as well. He dispatched assistants to make tribal visits months in advance. With the proper arrangements Curtis would travel by horseback or horse drawn wagon over paths or primitive “roads” to visit the tribes in their home territory. Once on site Curtis and his assistants would start work by interviewed the people and then photographing them either outside, in a structure, or inside his studio tent with an adjustable skylight. Employing these and other techniques over his lifetime he captured some of the most beautiful images of the Indian people ever recorded.

By 1900 he had articulated and began pursuing his life’s goal: to document, through photograph and written word, Indian traditions, habits, and life-styles west of the Mississippi River before contact with the white man completely destroyed them. Curtis undertook a series of exhibitions and articles to draw attention to his efforts, and he soon had the encouragement of Theodore Roosevelt and the financial support of J. Pierpont Morgan.

Monroe: But, as Worswick tells us, at the time of Curtis' dying --- in poverty --- his works had been all but ignored by the ethnologists of the time. These are romantic pictures, in the "pictorialist tradition." Great care was taken in the technique, the paper, and the final surface. They were considered "painterly." The editor tells us, In the photographs of the pictorialist tradition, peasants were uplifted, and photographers detailed righteous country work...Curtis pursued both an art vision and a higher artistic truth about his subject. There was dramatic lighting and composition, close-ups carrying the freight of the "noble savage," where "American ideas of manifest destiny where added to the various premises of the British Arts and Crafts movement." However, the photographer was free to experiment with truth (and, presumably, beauty), where...



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