I’ve been working on a big book project over the past months and just wanted to share some of my images in progress. Have a look on my website for some more finalised images from this same project.
I’ve been continuing my research into the history of Native Americans, working with photographs from public collections that capture and recount the story of their assimilation into the white man’s way of life.
Native American Chief Os-ke-non-ton talking to a group of children in Regent’s Park, London. He is on his annual trip to England to play the Medicine Man in ‘Hiawatha’ at the Royal Albert Hall.
Frances Densmore recording Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief on a cylinder phonograph for the Bureau of American Ethnology, 1916.
Dr. Charles A. Eastman, with Genevieve Irwin, “Miss Fort Dearborn,” holding a pipe. Photographed at the Birth of Chicago Pageant in 1933.
This work is reinforcing my understanding of my practice; re-iterating that I am interested in the act of remembering, the act of retelling, and the white washing or marginalisation of certain histories. I am driven by a desire to understand my own relationship with history, exploring how the visual interpretation of traumatic histories can lead me to a greater understanding of what it is to be human. This project’s particular challenge comes in finding appropriate and sensitive ways of examining and expressing someone else’s history; a history that is not closely related to my own heritage, but that still moves and affects me.
Boys with bike, Washington DC, 1938, Harris & Ewing Collection.
Group of Women, circa 1930.
I’m understanding again that my working process mirrors the way that history is created. The process of drawing becomes a metaphor for the distortion of memory and the biased nature of history, particularly within photography. First, it involves my selecting several images to represent the period I am looking at, and focusing from a particular viewpoint. Then it involves my drawing several versions of a single image, each an improvement but also a further distortion of the last version, and each moving further away from the original source, and the original experience.
These images are my first sketches from my chosen photographs. The first drawing allows me to engage with the source photograph intuitively. My second (and sometimes third) reworkings of these images (not shown here, see the finished drawings here:) bring me to focus on my drawing, rather than the original photograph, and to refine what I discovered through my drawing. So in my ‘final’ work the emphasis shifts from the original historical source onto my own visual retelling.
Native American Shosone children queue for vaccinations at the Wind River Agency, Fort Wakashe, Wyoming.
A small aside on the following images from Native American Boarding schools. These schools were intended to wipe out the native culture, and “create a generation that would be more willing to cooperate and sign their land away to the government”. They were extremely regimented, verging on militant. “Emotional and physical abuse was routine, and the curriculum explicitly indoctrinated students with the ideas of the superiority of the dominant [western] culture and the inferiority of native traditions”.
Sherman Indian High School, dancers and singers, 1970’s.
St Phillips Fort George QC, Girls brushing teeth, General Synod Archives.
Dorothy and Gladys Hill, both Blackfeet tribal members and students at the Cut Bank Boarding School, showcased their project “Furnishing of a Model Indian Home” at the 1930 4-H Club Hi-Line Association Conference at Rocky Boy, Montana.
Thomas Indian School Girls Basketball Team, 1931.
Two Yuma Men
Learning to write, Indian Boarding School, early 1900’s
Native American Basketball Team
Learning Breadmaking, Indian Boarding School, 1912
The Dwight Anderson family trying on a Native American headdress at Ghost Town in Buena Park, California
More research drawings from a current project that looks at the ways in which Native Americans were documented in photography in the early 1900’s. I’m becoming more and more interested in the assimilation of the Native Americans to the ‘white man’s’ way of life – the ways in which their culture, behaviour, traditions and language gradually changed, often by force, to resemble the culture of their white conquerers.
A group of Native American boys, in school uniforms.
A Native American man winning the marathon in the early 1900’s.
A surreal gathering of tribal chiefs and white men.
“The Oath” – after a photograph by Edward Curtis.
A traditional potter – after a photograph by Edward Curtis.
“White Man runs him” – after a photograph by Edward Curtis.
An Apsaroke woman in traditional dress – after a photograph by Edward Curtis.
“This then, I thought, as I looked around me, is the representation of history. It requires a falsification of perspective. We, the survivors, see everything from above, see everything at once, and still we do not know how it was.” – W. G. Sebald
A series of sketches that have been emerging as research for a new project, looking at the documentation of Native American Indian culture through photography. This work has been particularly inspired by the work of Edward S. Curtis, who made it his life’s work to photograph and document as many Native American tribes as he could.
Photographs have become central to the way in which we remember and understand past events. They construct as well as alter our idea of the past, and have become a testament to history. The photograph is a potent visual record of our past, and has become the main device through which we remember our own stories and learn about the history of our ancestors.
Most of my personal work is driven by wanting to understand my own relationship with history, and how it is relevant and useful for me today. My interest lies particularly in examining how the past is documented, filtered, and appropriated by different groups of people. As such, the medium of photography has become a very important point of reference for me.
Both the photograph and history books claim to represent reality in a past or present state exactly as it was or is, without bias. But in fact both are subject to numerous filters and interpretations. The view we have of the past is a construction, created both through words and images.
The Native American’s called Curtis’ camera “the white man’s magic box”. I find it really interesting to question who Curtis was making the photographs for. Was it for the Native Americans or was it for the white man? How does that influence the way the subjects positioned themselves in front of the camera? And how did it influence the way Curtis framed, selected and presented his images?
Looking at these photos from a modern day perspective, there is also the knowledge of what was already happening, and what happened afterwards. Perhaps our knowledge of the white man’s massacres of the Native American Indian causes us, or me, to superimpose a sense of foreboding and doom onto these portraits.
I am interested in exploring my own role, as an artist, in the understanding and interpretation of the past. With what filter do I look at the past? How do my drawings help me (or perhaps hinder me) in understanding past events; in this case the fate of the Native American Indian? The photograph serves as powerful witness of history, but it is the individual it depicts, pulled from the mass of history, that makes the past suddenly tangible, and real. Perhaps, similarly, focusing in on a face, on a people, on an era, enables makes me look, relate, empathise, and engage.
 W. G Sebald, The Rings of Saturn (The Harvill Press, 1998), p125.
These images were made for a group exhibition in Margate I took part in recently. Curated by the wonderful SplitPin Projects, the show was entitled ‘South London goes to the seaside’.
This work, as so much of my previous work, began with the aim of questioning how drawing and illustration can be used as research tools and mediums for engaging with history. I see this part of my practise as being a kind of historical reportage: a gathering and curating of images and information. These particular images were made in response to vintage photographs of beach-goers in and around Margate, reflecting on seaside culture from the early 1900’s.
A lot of my previous work has had me reworking and redrawing my initial drawings several times before they are included in the ‘final’ image. This series is the first instance of not doing so in a long time. I’m currently really striving to find a way of using the first drawing in my final work, trying to keep the image as authentic and loose as possible.
As a break from more sustained and concrete illustration projects, I enjoy coming back to drawing as a means of thinking on paper from time to time; not as a means to an end point, but as an end point in its’ own right. I am continuously re-evaluating for myself how drawing can be used as a research tool, and a process through which I can understand and reflect on my interests and my research. For me, drawing is not only a gathering of information but also an understanding of it. I find that it gives me a greater understanding of the subject as well as of my relationship with it, and thereby also a better understanding of myself.
These drawings have been emerging recently as part of my ongoing examination of my German heritage. They are based on photographs from the late 1930’s, from the days when my Grandmother was training to be a sports teacher in North Germany.
Over the years of my research into German history I’ve become fascinated with the image of the perfect athletic body that was propagated during the Nazi rule, and images of sporting activities have crept into several of my previous projects.
Physical exercise and looking after one’s body became highly important within German society, and were an integral part of the Nazi government’s plan to prepare their people for war. Officially, it was the governments aim to use sport to “improve the morale and productivity of German workers”.
A number of offices were set up to promote and monitor people’s leisure activities and sporting activities, which came under the umbrella organisation ‘Strength through Joy’, who not only organised after-work sporting activities, but also gave thousands of Germans the chance to go on holidays abroad for the first time. Sport became a source of national pride, and sporting achievements counted more highly than any other for job applications and school examinations.
These drawings are based on archive photographs as well as some of my Grandmothers own photographs. My research into Germany’s relationship with sport brings me to question how the national ideals of gender and physical appearance were imposed on my own Grandparents, and to what extent their bodies still felt like their own.