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Biography 26.4 (2003) 757-760



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Susan Bernardin, Melody Graulich, Lisa MacFarlane, and Nicole Tonkovich. Trading Gazes: Euro-American Women Photographers and Native North Americans, 1880-1940. New Brunswick: Rutgers UP, 2003. 240 pp. ISBN 0-8135-3170-5, $30.00.

From the collaborative efforts of four skillful writers emerges a rich biographical study of four amateur women photographers working in the late [End Page 757] nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Trading Gazes offers analysis of a "counter-archive" of images of Native subjects that stands in contrast to the conventional visual panorama of the American West, predicated on a sentimental discourse of "vanishing" native peoples that appears in the work of such photographers as William Henry Jackson, Edward S. Curtis, Frank Rinehart, John N. Choate, and many others. On the contrary, Trading Gazes renders visible the stories of four lesser-known Euro-American women photographers whose work breaks down the framework of dominant culture gazing upon indigenous peoples and captures moments of cross-cultural exchange that reshaped the identities of both photographer and subject, and in so doing, enlarges our understandings of Native Americans as subjects before the lens of the camera.

Nicole Tonkovich reconstructs the photography of Jane Gay, a 58-year-old unmarried woman who accompanied a childhood friend, Alice Fletcher, on a government expedition to oversee the allotment of land to Nez Perce Indians under the Dawes Act. Bringing to light a body of photographic work that remained hidden from public view in an attic in Idaho for many years, Tonkovich traces in Gay's photography the struggle on the reservation between traditional ways and assimilation to white cultural modes and policies. Tonkovich persuasively demonstrates Gay's ability to capture tensions embodied in the act of allotment and the retrenchment of the reservation, but does so through seemingly banal images that lack the aesthetic composition of the exotic and spectacular landscapes more often associated with ethnographic survey photography. Moreover, Tonkovich unpacks the ambiguity of Gay's persona, who negotiated between her assumptions about indigenous peoples and her sympathy for their predicament, through an examination of the contradictory impulses in her photography. By this means, Tonkovich finds visual evidence of native resistance, documenting the difficulties and inconsistencies of imposing government policy on the Nez Perce.

Melody Graulich analyzes the "visual autobiography" of Kate Cory, a quirky, well-educated, unmarried artist who lived in two Hopi towns for many years. Like Tonkovich, Graulich elucidates the tensions between assimilation and tradition, continuity and change in Cory's photographs. Her primary focus, however, lies in the process by which this exchange enabled Cory to resist urban consumer culture and remake herself through depictions of the Hopi Indians. This process of self-construction, along with her sympathy and respect for the Hopi, made it possible for Cory to resist the "gaze" and instead "look" differently at her subjects, as compared to more typical depictions that pictured the Hopi through the conventions of the exotic spectacle and romantic picturesque. Graulich's readings of Cory's [End Page 758] photographs ultimately invert the discursive rigidity of the imperial "gaze," providing insights into the mediation between two cultures and between the self and the Other.

Lisa MacFarlane reconstructs the career of Mary Sch¨affer, an upper-class white amateur photographer who wrote travel narratives and took photographs among the Stoney Indians of the Canadian Rockies. Like Graulich, MacFarlane's intention is to flesh out the complex liminal figure of Sch¨affer, who struggled to reconcile her identity as a refined civilized lady and her fantasy of being a wild mountain woman. MacFarlane argues that Sch¨affer's photography exemplifies the contradictory impulses of acceding to and/or resisting the imperial narrative, capturing the struggle between continuity and change for the natives—a theme that runs throughout Trading Gazes. MacFarlane demonstrates, however, that Sch¨affer's writing and photography enacted difference at the same time as it humanized indigenous peoples, suggesting that although Sch¨affer was seemingly empathetic, and at times even produced photographs of Indian mothers and families with sympathy and warmth...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1456
Print ISSN
0162-4962
Pages
pp. 757-760
Launched on MUSE
2004-01-08
Open Access
No
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