Edward Curtis - The North American Indian
“In 1906, J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. The work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs.
Morgan’s funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books, not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project, which was to last more than 20 years.
Curtis’s goal was not just to photograph, but to document, as much American Indian (Native American) traditional life as possible before it disappeared.
He wrote in the introduction to his first volume in 1907:
The information that is to be gathered…respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost.
Curtis made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music.
He took over 40,000 photographic images from over 80 tribes.
He recorded tribal lore and history, and he described traditional foods, housing, garments, recreation, ceremonies, and funeral customs.
He wrote biographical sketches of tribal leaders, and his material, in most cases, is the only written recorded history although there is still a rich oral tradition that documents history.”
1. Klamath Indian at Crater Lake
2. Two Whistles, Apsaroke
3. Dancing to Restore an Eclipsed Moon
7. Bear Bull - Blackfoot
8. Red Cloud
9. Apache Gaun
10. Offering to the Sun - San Ildefonso
What a picture of Indian character this affords: a mere infant starting out alone into the fastnesses of the mountain wilds, to commune with the spirits of the infinite, a tiny child sitting through the night on a lonely mountain-top, reaching out its infant’s hands to God! On distant and near-by hills howl the coyote and the wolf. In the valleys and on the mountain side prowl and stalk all manner of animals. Yet alone by the little fire sits the child listening to the mysterious voices of the night.
Curtis has been praised as a gifted photographer but also criticized by some contemporary ethnologists for manipulating his images. Although the early twentieth century was a difficult time for most Native communities in America, not all natives were doomed to becoming a “vanishing race.” At a time when natives’ rights were being denied and their treaties were unrecognized by the federal government, many natives were successfully adapting to western society. By reinforcing the native identity as the noble savage and a tragic vanishing race, some believe Curtis detracted attention from the true plight of American natives at the time when he was witnessing their squalid conditions on reservations first-hand and their attempt to find their place in Western culture and adapt to their changing world.
In many of his images Curtis removed parasols, suspenders, wagons, and other traces of Western material culture from his pictures. In his photogravure In a Piegan Lodge, published in The North American Indian, Curtis retouched the image to remove a clock between the two men seated on the ground.
He also is known to have paid natives to pose in staged scenes, wear historically inaccurate dress and costumes, dance and partake in simulated ceremonies. In Curtis’ picture Oglala War-Party, the image shows 10 Oglala men wearing feather headdresses, on horseback riding down hill. The photo caption reads, “a group of Sioux warriors as they appeared in the days of inter tribal warfare, carefully making their way down a hillside in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp”. In truth, headdresses would have only been worn during special occasions and, in some tribes, only by the chief of the tribe. The photograph was taken in 1907 when natives had been relegated onto reservations and warring between tribes had ended. Curtis paid natives to pose as warriors at a time when they lived with little dignity, rights, and freedoms. It is therefore suggested that he altered and manipulated his pictures to create an ethnographic simulation of native tribes untouched by Western society. (x)
Quillwork by Ojibwe artist Biskakone Greg Johnson
Origins of the Afro Comb: 6,000 years of Culture, Politics and Identity
The afro comb has long been associated with the 1970s, the accessory of a hairstyle that represented counter culture and civil rights during an important era for both.
Forty years ago, the afro comb was worn in the hair not only as an adornment, but also as a political emblem and a signature of a collective identity. It was recognised as a way of saying no to oppression. Wearing the comb led to a kind of comradeship amongst those whose hair grows up and out, not down.
Previously, the Afro comb wasn’t very visible. And for this reason it has been assumed that the afro comb was invented in the 1970s. But a new exhibition blows that myth out the water. The afro comb dates back to ancient Egypt. The oldest comb from the collection is 5,500 years old.
The hundreds of combs on display show that over time the style hasn’t changed. The comb, sometimes called a pick, is commonly upright with long teeth. Sometimes a motif decorates the top. In ancient times it often referenced cultural belonging, and there are artifacts showing how people wore the comb in the hair. Time marches on and culture is always in transition. But perhaps not at the speed we assume.
Origins of the Afro Comb is on now at the Fitzwiliam Museum in Cambridge.
I guess white people needed Afro picks back then
I tell my students, ‘When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else. This is not just a grab-bag candy game.’
- Toni Morrison (via ethiopienne)
When reality television star and fashion blogger Lauren Conrad was asked what her “favorite position” was on a live radio program a while back, the women listening held their breath. Although we take great pride in the work that we do, most of us could relate to being undermined and belittled publicly at work. When Conrad cleverly retorted “CEO,” it was hard not to aggressively high-five our laptop and mobile devices. The words “hell” and “yeah” could be heard all across the nation.
The truth is, everyone likes to look down on someone. If your favorites are all avant-garde writers who throw in Sanskrit and German, you can look down on everyone. If your favorites are all Oprah Book Club books, you can at least look down on mystery readers. Mystery readers have sci-fi readers. Sci-fi can look down on fantasy. And yes, fantasy readers have their own snobbishness. I’ll bet this, though: in a hundred years, people will be writing a lot more dissertations on Harry Potter than on John Updike. Look, Charles Dickens wrote popular fiction. Shakespeare wrote popular fiction - until he wrote his sonnets, desperate to show the literati of his day that he was real artist. Edgar Allan Poe tied himself in knots because no one realized he was a genius. The core of the problem is how we want to define “literature”. The Latin root simply means “letters”. Those letters are either delivered - they connect with an audience - or they don’t. For some, that audience is a few thousand college professors and some critics. For others, its twenty million women desperate for romance in their lives. Those connections happen because the books successfully communicate something real about the human experience. Sure, there are trashy books that do really well, but that’s because there are trashy facets of humanity. What people value in their books - and thus what they count as literature - really tells you more about them than it does about the book.
Brent Weeks (via victoriousvocabulary)
Inevitably, when you talk about white privilege someone will ask the question, “What about poor white people? What privilege do they have?”
In January 1961, John F. Kennedy was inagurated as the nation’s thirty-fifth president. In February 1961, he signed an executive order for a pilot food stamp program, one based on the model previously used during the Great Depression. During his campaign, Kennedy had spent much time in West Virginia, and according to his speechwriter Ted Sorensen, “was appalled by the pitiful conditions he saw, by the children of poverty, by the families living on surplus lard and corn meal, by the waste of human resources…. He called for better housing and better schools and better food distribution…. He held up a skimpy surplus food package and cited real-life cases of distress.” Kennedy saw people in need and used his power as president to address their crisis.
This week, the House Appropriations Committe released a draft of the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill. In it, $27 million is budgeted for a pilot program aimed at reducing child hunger in rural areas. “Sounds innocuous enough,” writes MSNBC’s Ned Resnikoff, “except the $27 million program was actually the committee’s substitute for a White House proposal which would have allocated $30 million to child hunger across urban and rural areas.”
Resnikoff goes on to point out that this doesn’t mean children in urban areas will be completely left out of hunger reducing programs, as the “federal government spends hundreds of millions of dollars on the Summer Food Service Program, which provides meals to low-income children when school is not in session and they don’t have access to free or reduced school lunch,” and that there are specific challenges that face rural areas with regards to food insecurity. However, “the House committee’s proposal is likely to help fewer people of color than the White House proposal. And while rural areas may be unique in terms of the challenges they face, they’re not where most of America’s hungry are concentrated.”
They’re also among the whitest. “The Appalachian region,” which is where this money would go, writes Talking Points Memo’s Sahil Kapur, “is also more white (83.5 percent) than the United States overall (63.7 percent), according to the Appalachian Regional Commission—and much more so than urban areas, which have a disproportionately high share of minorities.”
It’s not that Kennedy or this current House subcommittee ever explicitly said “white hunger is more important than black hunger, white poverty is more important than black poverty.” But the seeming indifference toward black poverty, played out in their actions as elected officials, reflects the privileging of whiteness. It is indecent that any person go hungry, particularly in a country of such abundance. It is indecent to determine that some of those people are more worthy of our investment in their being fed than others. It is indecent to then pretend as if that’s not the case. All these indecencies add up to an injustice. We are a country that practices injustice as a way of life.
Yes, you can be poor and white and still benefit from white supremacy. That’s what privilege is.
(Photo Credit: Reuters/Rick Wilking)