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Questions of Authenticity The ways in which Americans 'play Indian' suggest tokenism, condescension, trivialization and even racism. What are the implications.

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Presentation on theme: "Questions of Authenticity The ways in which Americans 'play Indian' suggest tokenism, condescension, trivialization and even racism. What are the implications."— Presentation transcript:

1 Questions of Authenticity The ways in which Americans 'play Indian' suggest tokenism, condescension, trivialization and even racism. What are the implications of native people themselves participating in these symbolic acts? Can meaningful cultural messages be conveyed by Indians 'putting on feathers' or are they participating in self- exploitation? What do you the viewer make of the varied expressions on the children's faces?

2 Self Image In these two images, the photographer has depicted native plainsmen in two opposite, but equally stereotypical ways. One image supports the symbolism of native men as proud and defiant warriors. The other exploits the subject, a native man who appears to be drunken and shabbily dressed. Both symbols may be said to represent a variation of "Indianness." Those unfamiliar with native culture often classify native men as either warriors or drunks, both of which are one-dimensional or stereotypical representations. This reductive thinking leaves no other symbol or depiction available for the contemporary native himself.

3 Self Image Would an image such as the one of the man working in the fields qualify as a picture of an Indian man in the viewer’s minds? What defines one’s identity? Is identity conveyed by dress (feathers or farm clothes), or occupation (warrior, farmer or drunk)? Could the intent of the photographer and the context of showing the image determine how the identity of native people is interpreted?

4 Women and Beauty Native women have traditionally been miscast as tragic beasts of burden or Indian princesses. Like men, their identity is often presented in inaccurate and sometimes demeaning ways. Interestingly, Yeffe Kimball’s photographs are generally of two types, idealized traditionally dressed women inactively posed as objects of beauty and alternately modern women at work and play. Are the rodeo beauties any less appealing in their sense of themselves than the two women posing in their feathers in front of a teepee?

5 Women and Beauty Of these two images, the woman in modern dress on the right most closely resembles traditional native identity by her activity - erecting a teepee. Why does the image on the left signal a more potent form of native identity? For whom does the sitter pose?

6 Learning Identity In these images of children, the viewer sees native kids variously dressed as both Indians and cowboys. The tribes photographed appear to be Sioux, Crow or Cheyenne. We know in general that these groups pursued livestock raising as an economic endeavor, so in reality both roles would have been available to the children at the time the photos were taken.

7 Learning Identity How do you suppose the children themselves conceived of the differences when made to play “Indian” as opposed to their regular play times at home? How do you interpret the image where both worlds - that of the cowboy at the rodeo and the Indian staged in front of the teepee ­ are simultaneously shown? Do native people live in two worlds? What does that really mean?

8 Living in the Past Much can be read from the way people’s homes appear. Kimball attempts to depict a traditional Plains family in the images on the left yet other photos taken at the same time show a very different mode of living. How were both images intended to be used? In what context would the “traditional” plains Indians photographs be displayed? Is the photographer guilty of misrepresentation in posing the subjects in a timeless, traditional past? Do the subjects feel nostalgia in presenting themselves in such a manner?

9 Living in the Past The image on the left exposes the self consciousness implicit in what Harold Prins calls the “primitive paradox.” What is the impact of self-imagining in stereotypical fashion? What social indicators are evident in the image on the right?

10 These concurrent photos depict images typically considered “candid” (image on the left) and “posed.” Are native people engaged in “posing” self-stereotyping? Do you agree as Hill argues that these stereotypes already existed in the minds of the tourists and others? Was this activity part of the economic reality of the time period? Living in the Past

11 Vanishing Indians Interesting parallels can be drawn between the photography of Edward S. Curtis at the turn of the century and the work of Yeffe Kimball. Both pursued projects that spanned three decades and both sought to document native cultures across North America. These ambitious projects were similarly supported by government entities. Most striking however is the manner in which Curtis and Kimball appear to have been intent of capturing “authentic” native culture. While we know that Curtis utilized props (such as the same headdress above), we do not know how Kimball posed her subjects.

12 Vanishing Indians While Kimball’s photos evoke a sentimental and even at times, proud past, they appear, like Curtis, to be the making of one person’s imaginary ideal of Indianness. Are the more modern depictions taken at the same time period, yet unrehearsed, less reflective of Indian identity? Have Indian people adopted Curtis’ images as the “real” depictions of themselves in these photographs? If this conclusion was true in the 1940s to 1960’s time period, does this belief still seem possible today? Do we still think that the only real Indians are wearing feathers? What types of media images are available for alternate readings?

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