Freedom, rugged individuality, courage, and adventure are the words most often associated with the American West today and in times past. Genocide, racism, displacement, brutality, and despair are more accurate terms to describe the West if you are one of its first inhabitants—a Native American. The myth of the American West and the romanticization and simultaneous vilification of its first inhabitants presents itself in many social constructs and narratives, including history, literature, fashion, film, art, and photography. When depicting Native American people in media and popular culture, non-Natives often present American Indians as savages, “vanishing” Indians, and impediments to American progress. Non-Native American filmmakers and photographers have established a model for depicting Native Americans, one which has become the standard for how non-Native Americans view indigenous people: horse-riding, feather-wearing, tee-pee-dwelling, mystical people of wild, unconquered territories.
We Are Not Your Savages pushes back against inaccurate, oversimplified depictions of American Indians perpetuated by non-Native American filmmakers and photographers and provides valuable insights into the life of modern American Indian people. We Are Not Your Savages includes photographs, interviews, and footage of contemporary Native American people highlighting their diverse, complex lives. Depicting Native American people in a more nuanced light allows non-Native American audiences to see a more multifaceted—more human—portrayal of Native American people, while also allowing Native American audiences to identify with the complicated, layered characters we see on screen and in photographs—a privilege, historically, we have been denied.
In creating We Are Not Your Savages, I have applied the decolonial practice of Visual Sovereignty, which can be defined as Native American self-representation in film, media, performance, and photography. The application of this decolonial methodology is key to bringing new perspectives to America’s vision of the West by giving a voice to the Native American experience.
KÚ·S HÍ·WES WÁ·IS. (WATER IS LIFE. WATER IS ALIVE.) (2021)
A vignette to accompany the closing monologue from Robert Redford’s A River Runs Through It (1992), which is an adaptation of Norman Maclean’s novel. I shot this footage in Paradise Valley, which sits at the entrance of Yellowstone National Park in southwestern Montana. (For Timmy. Vaya con Dios!)
THE SUREÑO (2020)
Sureños, meaning "Southerners," are members of a Mexican gang in California whose greater allegiance is to the Mexican Mafia. Miguel (a.k.a. "Silent") was jumped (i.e., initiated) into his local gang at the age of 23. Although he must go to great lengths to protect himself, his family, and his fellow gang members from the omnipresent threat of inner-city violence, he wants people to know that, despite being gang-affiliated, he is not much different from the average American citizen.
EDWARD CURTIS: RE-IMAGINED (2019)
A series of photographs that depict present-day indigenous people in a style that mirrors American photographer Edward S. Curtis’s early 20th century photos of Native American people. I have re-imagined Curtis’s photography by exploring some of the ways he may have photographed contemporary indigenous people if he were still alive today. I have produced a series of photographs of contemporary indigenous people and have juxtaposed them with some of Curtis’s most famous photographs.