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Will Wilson interview about The Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange

Video by Portland Art Museum Will Wilson

(Diné) – Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy

A major exhibition featuring contemporary photographs by Native American photographers Zig Jackson, Wendy Red Star, and Will Wilson in dialogue with photographs from Edward Sheriff Curtis’ renowned body of work The North American Indian. In juxtaposing non-Native with Native perspectives, this unique exhibition asks audiences to think critically about the portrayal of Native experience through photography.
Created by Smarthistory.

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Video transcript

Autoimmune response is about this kind of post-apocalyptic Navajo man roaming a beautiful but somehow toxic landscape and trying to figure out how to exist in that space. The title references autoimmune disease which kind of disproportionately affect Native American populations so when I was making this series I was thinking in some ways Native Americans are this Sentinel population where the canary's in the coal mine but we all share this coal mine. So it's also about a response though so it's about kind of claiming agency and trying to figure out how to exist in that space and move forward and survive. The Civic series the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange which is a little bit more in response to images like the ones that Edward S. Curtis created. I invite sitters to come and participate in this almost performance I make their photograph with this historic photographic process called wet plate that kind of predates Curtis actually. He did do some wet plate but by the time he moved into the North American Indian project dry plate had been invented so I used this this historic photographic process where you're actually hand making emulsions kind of walking the the sitter through the process of the portrait kind of ritual and then at the end I gift the the object and the the actual tintype that that is the thing that's in the camera to the sitter in exchange for a scan of it. With the Civics project in particular I mean I kind of frame that in some ways strategically around this idea of working you know with historic images of Native Americans and of course Curtis is you know the most well known he's kind of the archetypical creator of the photograph of the Native American and in a lot of ways I think has some authored this this almost mythic image of who we are and that image is prevalent even today I think in a lot of people's minds and imaginations and so the work that I'm doing right now some of the process or some of the project is focused around photographing Native Americans it's it's open to anybody actually and it's really as much about photography and I think exchange and you know kind of performance ritual some people call it relational aesthetics but more specifically there's this element that that talks about the way that we think of Native Americans like through photography so I'm kind of updating that practice and process, I think.