With your Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange [CIPX] project and the Talking Tintypes app, you have used a 19th century wet-plate process to make portraits that challenge 19th century representations of Indigenous people. Why did you feel this vintage process was the right medium?
The historic wet-plate collodion process evokes history and embeds my contemporary work with meaning that transcends the present day. Wet-plate was the process used to make the first known photographs of Diné people. Significantly, these first photographs were created during a period known as the Hwéeldi by Navajo. The Hwéeldi, or place of suffering, refers to the Long Walk of the Navajo to Bosque Redondo or Fort Sumner in what is now eastern New Mexico. Beginning in I863, the U.S. Government orchestrated a scorched-earth campaign of deportation and attempted ethnic cleansing against the Navajo people, resulting in a series of forced marches from Dinétah (Navajo homelands) to the U.S. military garrison, Fort Sumner. The Navajo were forced to endure five years of internment, miserable conditions, and near-starvation at Fort Sumner until June 1, 1968, when a treaty was signed between the Navajo and the U.S. Government (photographs were taken, marking this important event.) As a Diné photographer, I feel the legacy of Hwéeldi looms large in my understanding of the history of photography to Indigenous people. My engagement with this process—and by extension its relationship to the traumatic history of U.S.-Diné relations—binds the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange to history and meaning in a way that other processes simply can’t.
How are your methods of working with your Indigenous portrait sitters different from those of the 19th century photographers whose work you were critiquing? How were the results different?