An exhibition of photography by Will Wilson (U.S., Navajo; b. 1969) extends the body of portraiture of Native Americans in Oklahoma, while shifting preconceptions about the historical narrative within which the Native community is often presented. The title refers to both the use of photography as a medium and the synthesis of Edward S. Curtis’s original work into the construction of a body of photography that extends and empowers Native representation from the historic into the present. This exhibition is an extension of Wilson’s ongoing Critical Indigenous Photography Exchange, which began in 2012.
Wilson, working with curator Heather Ahtone, photographically responds to Curtis’s portraits made in 1927 by photographing descendants of the same communities. Through collaboration with the tribal communities being represented, the project rejects the premise of the “vanishing” Indian. These additional images defy the measure of “authenticity” employed by Curtis who, in 1930, wrote that Oklahoma’s tribal people “have continued to advance, amalgamate, and become a part of the body politic… a striking forecast of the ultimate solution of what is now regarded as the Indian problem.” Will Wilson is directly countering the historicizing effect of Curtis’s images by using the anachronistic photography process of tintypes to document contemporary Indigenous people. Through the new photographs, the exhibition presents the “family portraits” side-by-side to create a family album of the communities identified by Curtis as “suitably” American Indian.
Participating tribal communities include: Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes, Comanche Nation, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.
Beyond the descendants’ photographs, other portraits of Oklahoma’s Native American community taken in summer 2016 during Wilson’s residency will be included. Defying Curtis’s external measurement of cultural vitality, selected portraits of Oklahoma’s tribal community are incorporated into the gallery to create a visual and metaphorical presence of a broader community. To further enhance the presence of the Native community within the gallery, Wilson made video recordings of some of the leaders speaking to the contemporary issues they face. These first-person accounts will be provided within the gallery through the augmented reality software, Layar. Wilson’s Talking Tintypes will be the first use of this software in a museum and with his photography.
Exhibition overview from museum website.