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Analysis Essay

Photography: Misrepresentation

Art and photography play an important role in the depiction and imagery of Native Americans.

Portraits of Native Americans have been done in such a way that inaccurately depicts their

people, history, and traditions. Our modern world has been socialized in a manner that

underplays the importance of these inaccurate representations. The imagery of Native

Americans has been used for advertising, in company logos, as well as many other aspects of

media. By doing so, it misrepresents Native Americans and underplays the importance of their

history and traditions. It strips them of their humanity as well as identity. The article “A "Real"

American Indian” written by Huyser, Kimberly R. discusses the power held by stereotypes and

self-images in the modern images of Native Americans. Specifically, the article focuses on

Huyser, Kimberly R. and her participation in a project which aims to create images of Native

Americans in the modern era. The depiction of Native Americans has been an issue dated back

to the era of colonization. Their depiction was controlled by media and individuals in power in

order to paint a certain narrative. The author was shocked to her portray was next to and

compared with another of a Native woman in traditional regalia. These portraits of Native

Americans were portrayed with a rigid expression and a dark and almost olive complexion. For

Huyser, when she envisions the American Indian it, “evokes one of three representations: a

black and white image of a stoic American Indian, Tonto from the Lone Ranger, or the

Washington Redskins mascot” (Huyser, 70). When thinking of Native Americans, these are the

images that pop up in one’s mind. These depictions of Native Americans were controlled by the

media and those in power in order to perpetuate a certain narrative. This is why these

depictions are known as “controlling images”. They are powerful stereotypes that aim to attack a

group’s humanity and identity. On top of this, it also has a great effect on the member’s self-

value. These “controlling images” of indigenous people control the narrative and the image that

the public may have of Native Americans. It also limits the understanding and representations of

these Indigenous peoples. During a visit to various elementary schools during Native American

month, Huyser recalls her experiences. “I typically arrive in my usual clothes, and students often

ask why I don't ‘look like an Indian’, what my ‘Indian name’ is. They excitedly show me the

‘Indian clothes’ they made out of brown t-shirts that had been shredded and decorated with a

black marker” (Huyser, 70).These types of classroom projects are fun for students to partake in.

However, they may

not necessarily convey the correct depiction of American Indians. They are fun in part because

they are disconnected from the history of wars, genocide, murder, forced assimilation, and the

continual colonialism of Native Americans. Huyser suggests that teachers not shy away from

the discussion of certain contemporary and current social issues. One of which includes why

certain states are choosing to forgo Columbus Dayan instead adopt Indigenous People’s Day.

This type of discussion will move students away from the stereotypical depiction of Native

Americans allowing them to forgo their socialized ideas and imagery. The article Presence,

Significance and Insistence: Photographs in place by Devorah Romanek discusses the method

of redeploying historic ethnographic images of Native Americans in New Mexico in order to help

investigate the roles that photograph shave on the image and depiction of Native Americans.

The photographs will be deployed in the American Southwest, in the areas in which contentious

clashes concerning identity occurs. Specifically, the article will focus on factors of photography

including presence, presence in absence, punctum, or inalienable and unredeemable aspects. It

is known that, when it comes to Native American photography, the Library of Congress often

record inaccurate identities of the photographer, the date, and in certain cases the name of the

individuals being photographs. One of the factors which prevents from seeing this inaccuracy is

the literal representation in the photograph. When layered with original intentions and

conventions and perpetuated by accretion of meaning, the literal representation creates a

distance between the audience and the image. One of the methods deployed was a short video

accessed via QR code installations in Santa Fe, Mexico. by Will Wilson, a citizen of the Navajo

Nation, trans-customary Diné (Navajo) artist. The video was accessed by scanning a QR code

that was temporarily attached to the monument with masking tape. The video and QR code

installation speaks to the idea that in New Mexico, there exists a struggle between Indigenous

identified people and their own identity and history. On top of this, “being an intellectually

informed work of self-identification, social appropriateness or social justice, Wilson’s QR code

piece expresses a felt sense of history, and an embodied knowing of what is wrought by

creating such works and taking such actions in the present” (Romanek, 275). It follows the idea

that by moving forward, we only stay where we are currently. However, by taking control of what

has been forgotten and by allowing the past to influence us, we will start moving forward. The

future is important but we must understand the past in order to reach it. Learn from the mistakes

of the past so that it is not repeated in the future. The acts of invention within photography by

Native American artists are not just in defiance in the struggle for ownership of their image. It is

attuning to how these images may help and support the cause of their historical presence and

character. These artists have invents new meaning out of the historical presence in old

photographs.

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