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Reviewed by:
  • Framing the West: Race, Gender, and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest
  • Andrea N. Walsh
Framing the West: Race, Gender, and the Photographic Frontier in the Pacific Northwest. Carol J. Williams. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003. Pp. 216, illus., b&w, $29.95

Framing the West examines the divergent and often conflicting roles of commercial photographers, governments, and missionaries in the photo-documentation of colonial expansion, and the resulting intercultural encounters during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Carol Williams demonstrates how photographs taken during this period are important material evidence of not only larger government agendas, but also of individual encounters between Native and non-Native peoples. Williams demonstrates how interconnected public and private agendas were for the use of photography. Paramount to the book are issues of politics and shifting power around the public and private use of photography [End Page 124] during this era on the northwest coast, and the relationship between photographs as visual documents and the written texts that accompany them in the form of their captions or photographer memoirs.

Williams structures her inquiry using a modest chronology of the history of the photographic frontier. Each chapter of the book efficiently blends general background information about colonial expansion with particular details of the key roles photography and photographers played in creating the visual record of the time. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the 'pre-industrial early trade and contact relations between Euro-Americans and the Wakashan-speaking Nuu-chah-nulth, on the northwestern coast of Vancouver Island' (28). Chapter 2 examines the lives and photographs of the primarily male commercial photographers who produced the public record of settlers, architecture, and geographical surveys now found in the public record. Chapter 3 explores the use of photography by missionaries, detailing the use of honorific portraiture to illustrate cases of successful conversion of Aboriginal peoples. Here Williams details the manner by which these images were viewed very differently by Native peoples (as biblical entertainment) and urban settler communities (as evidence of evangelical success). Chapter 4 investigates the use of photographs of women on the coast (both Native and non-Native) with their children and families to record their 'work' as women on the frontier, namely giving birth and raising children. This emerg- ing economy of studio portraits for settler women and their children extended to Native women who sought to document themselves and their family as successfully converting their lives to a Western model. The final chapter moves away from examining photography from the point of view of Western expansion to thinking about why and how individual Aboriginal people utilized the skills and availability of commercial photographers to take mainly portraiture of families, but also of some aspects of cultural events.

Williams provides a comprehensive record of her use of archival references that she passes on to the reader through her bibliography and endnotes. Her meticulous reading and theoretical critique of the use of archives in social science research provides a potential departure point for further study by others not only in the area of history and photography, but also by those interested in archives and their continual re-interpretation. Williams's argument throughout the first three chapters – that colonial expansion of the coast and the later tourist economy provided a fertile ground for ongoing collaboration between the public and private – is well supported by her use of particular archival references and her detailed discussions of individual photographers and their work. Williams grounds her book with in-depth discussions about photographs [End Page 125] that until now have not received critical attention. She weaves together the complicated histories of the people who sat as subjects for photographs and the lives of the photographers who created the images. These contexts of intertwining lives and agendas are made most evident in the later chapters of the book that examine photographs commissioned or taken by individual Native peoples for individual and cultural purposes. Using such examples of Native agency, Williams furthers existing critiques of the colonial gaze and its relationship to race and gender. She illustrates her book with images that allow her to discuss photography and gender from the perspectives of both men and women...


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pp. 124-126
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