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Exhibition: ‘Time Exposures: Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century’ at the National Museum of the American Indian, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th September 2011 – 10th June 2012
George Gustav Heye Center, New York

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Another glorious, eclectic posting with a couple of knockout photographs, including Sumner Matteson’s Simon Zuni (1900, below) and George Wharton James’s Selling goods along tracks (late 1880s to early 1900s, below). The latter is a masterpiece of early modernist photography. Observe the spatial construction of the picture: open and yet closed at the same time. What do I mean by this? The image allows the eye to wander, to meander if you like among the structures while always having an escape into the sky, into the distance of the partially blocked vanishing point. The objects flow across the image plane like music; at left the dark shape and its shadow falling on the railway tracks hold in that side of the image. If the shape wasn’t there your eye would fall out of that side of the photograph, it would not be enclosed. It is this enclosure which forces your gaze into the distance. An asymmetrical balance is achieved with the train car at right, this time with the added punctum of the limply hanging flag to hold the viewer’s attention. Most stunning of all is the composition in the centre, with changes in scale, orientation and direction – frontal, angled, away – and the commensurate shadows thrown from a setting sun. Reinforcing this flow is the chiaroscuro of the people selling goods – the white of the dress and the dark of the shawl, with the wonderfully raised arm breaking up the vanishing point/vertical composition. The shape of the dog lopping away parallel to the train tracks would normally lead us to an empty vista, the vanishing point on the horizon line of the image. Partially it still does, but the photographers skill in orientating his camera, in previsualising this tableaux (which must have been seen in a split second) is that the box car denies the eye an easy exit point. A series of telegraph poles at left hint at further human encroachment into the landscape, while at right the eye can finally leave the ground an ascend into the sky and escape into the beyond. This is quite the most exquisite photograph I have seen in a long time.

Many thankx to the National Museum of the American Indian, New York for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Photographer unknown
Albuquerque Indian School Boys with Flags
c. 1900
9 x 12 cm
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Center

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Charles Lummis
Cacique Bautista Chivira, with his wife and daughter Lupe Chivira and Rafaelita Chivira Charles
September 21, 1892
30.5 x 48
Courtesy of the Autry National Center/Southwest Museum, Los Angeles

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Charles Lummis
Group portrait
c. 1890’s
15.425 x 24  cm
Courtesy of the Autry National Center/Southwest Museum, Los Angeles

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Charles Lummis
Cyanotype photograph album: Bits of New Mexico and Arizona, Vol. 2
Nd 
5.25” x 9.25”
Courtesy of the Autry National Center/Southwest Museum, Los Angeles

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“The rapid changes forced on the Native American peoples of the American southwest are documented in Time Exposures: Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century. With more than 80 images and objects that detail life on the Isleta Pueblo Reservation after the arrival of the railroads in 1881, the exhibition opens Saturday, Sept. 17, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center, and continues through Sunday, June 10, 2012.

In 1881, the railroad companies forcibly took land in the center of Isleta Pueblo in the Rio Grande Valley and the rail lines built there brought scores of tourists. Prominent non-Native artists and photographers, such as Edward Curtis and Ben Wittick, traveled there to capture everyday Pueblo life. Organized by the people of Isleta Pueblo, Time Exposures portrays their lives before the arrival of tourists and other visitors, the changes imposed over the following decades and the ways in which the people of Isleta Pueblo worked to preserve their way of life.

Time Exposures is divided into three parts. In the first section, the cycle of the Isleta traditional year as it was observed in the mid-19th century is detailed. The second section describes the arrival of the Americans and the how this disrupted the Isleta way of living. In the third section, the exhibit examines the photos themselves as products of an outside culture. While exploring the underlying ideas and values of the photos, the exhibition questions their portrayal of Isleta people and ways. “In this exhibition, Native people respond to the stereotypical images of their lives that have been circulated by outsiders for centuries,” said Kevin Gover (Pawnee), director of the museum. “It is an opportunity for us all to learn the realities behind some of these popular and enduring photographs.”

“These photographs tell such an important story,” said John Haworth (Cherokee), director of the Heye Center. “The people of Isleta Pueblo fought to maintain their traditions despite radical and dramatic disruptions.”

Included in the exhibition are images by photographers Edward Curtis, A.C. Vroman, Karl Moon, John Hillers, Charles Lummis, Carlos Vierra, Sumner Matteson, Albert Sweeney, Josef Imhof and Ben Wittick. Time Exposures: Picturing a History of Isleta Pueblo in the 19th Century was organized by the people of the Pueblo of Isleta. A committee of Isleta Pueblo traditional leaders oversaw the development, writing and design of the exhibition. Time Exposures originally appeared at the Albuquerque Museum of Art and History in New Mexico.”

Press release from the National Museum of the American Indian, New York website

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George Wharton James
Selling goods along tracks
late 1880s to early 1900s
40 x 27 cm
Courtesy of the Autry National Center/Southwest Museum, Los Angeles

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Sumner Matteson
Simon Zuni
1900
46 x 33 cm
Photograph Courtesy of the Milwaukee Public Museum, Sumner W. Sumner Matteson Collection

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Unknown photographer
Jose S. Abeita, bronco buster, in Magdalena
c. 1920
25 x 40
Courtesy of the Autry National Center/Southwest Museum, Los Angeles

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Charles Lummis
Young Isleta Girl
Nd 
Cabinet card
Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
The George Gustav Heye Center
One Bowling Green, Battery Park, New York City
T: (212) 514-3700

Opening hours:
Every day from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Thursdays until 8 p.m

National Museum of the American Indian website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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