Visual archeology: Native American photographs as artifacts of the past

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Moses, Coy J.

Moses, Coy J. 2019. Visual archeology: Native American photographs as artifacts of the past -- Lambda Alpha Journal, v.49, p.41-58


Woven throughout this paper is the thread of family photography, that concentrates on the importance of photographs to both researchers and descendant communities and considers why historical collections of photographs should be integrated into cultural research within modern anthropology. The following quote from Photography's Beginnings appropriately captures much of the same sentiment: "From the beginning, photographs have been family treasures--heirlooms sure that amount to a bond of faith with future generations ... even without a personal connection to these pictures, we can feel a commonality of spirit and emotions with their subject. In a way, they are ancestors for us all" (Cameron 1989 67). Walk into any antique mall in the United States and more than likely you will find a booth selling old photographs, sometimes they are placed neatly into plastic sleeves or more often gathering dust in an old shoebox. A photograph of someone's mother and father, sister and brother, high school sweetheart, or best friend now being sold for fifty cents, but the subject matter often extends beyond typical western culture and experiences. How many more collections of historical photographs are tucked away and forgotten in a closet for decades? When all of this happens after a photographer has created an image that gets "buried in a descendant's attic, unrecognized. Do they matter? The answer, of course, is that the works matter very much, once they are unearthed and appreciated" (Cameron 1989 72). Keeping this in mind, there will be situations in which collections of photographs are rediscovered, and although each group holds different responsibilities, both researchers and descendant communities are united by a similar bond of faith.

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