American West

Beyond Edward Curtis: Native lens

The Portland Art Museum's exhibition of Curtis and three contemporary Native American photographers cuts through the myth and carries the story forward

It’s been a week since I saw Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy at the Portland Art Museum, and when I revisit it in my mind I keep going back to the corner that might be called Zig’s Indian Reservation. That’s what Zig Jackson, the Mandan/Hidatsa/Arikara photographer, calls it in his sly, faux-documentary excursions into places he “shouldn’t be”.

Here we see Zig, in full headdress and also in sunglasses and sneakers, sitting on a San Francisco public bus with other commuters, all of whom seem to be staring pointedly in some other direction. Here he is, in his series Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian, at the Taos Pueblo, shooting a photo of an Anglo photographer shooting a photo of a native in full regalia: the visitor has his camera pushed up close to the pueblo man’s face, as if he’s grabbing a snapshot of an exotic bird at the zoo. Here’s Zig again, at San Francisco City Hall, and in a buffalo enclosure in Golden Gate Park. And here he is, standing in his headdress on an urban grassland with a high-rise cityscape behind him and two official-looking signs to his side. ENTERING ZIG’S INDIAN RESERVATION, the big sign says, above a smaller one that lays out the fine print:

PRIVATE PROPERTY

Open Range Cattle on Highway

NO PICTURE TAKING

NO HUNTING

NO AIR TRAFFIC

NO NEW AGERS ALLOWED

Without Permission from Tribal Council

Zig’s Indian Reservation, it should be noted, is a movable thing, traveling with him wherever he goes, which hints both at the nomadic nature of much of America’s original native culture and at the rights that accrue with citizenship wherever the citizen goes.

Zig Jackson. "Camera in Face, Taos, New Mexico," 1992, from the series "Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian." Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Smith Gallery © Zig Jackson

Zig Jackson. “Camera in Face, Taos, New Mexico,” 1992, from the series “Indian Photographing Tourist Photographing Indian.” Pigment print. Courtesy of the artist and Andrew Smith Gallery © Zig Jackson

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