Found: Wa-ben-o-qua, She-we-ta-gis-in, Qua-bas-en-oqua, Antigo, Wis

Found: Wa-ben-o-qua, She-we-ta-gis-in, Qua-bas-en-oqua, Antigo, Wis. by A.J. Kinsbury copyright 1908.
"Dear Lena -- We are in the Northern part of Wis. Fishing is low this week, we didn't get any fish.
We expect to be back home the end of the week. Will write a letter as soon as we get home.
With love too all from Aunt and Uncle"
 Azo 7 EKD real photo postcard postmarked July 24, 1920 State Line, Wis.
We have come upon references to A.J. Kingsbury's un-politically correct portrayals of Native Americans: "Due to issues of cultural sensitivity, only 144 photographs, glass plate negatives, and postcards have been deemed appropriate by the Ojibwe and Menominee communities for display online." Still there are many that have been published in a small book titled Langlade County: Images of America by Richard Prestor and Joseph Hermolin published by Arcadia Publishing (April 2012). Would this portrait of Ojibwe or Menominee American Indians, possibly made near Antigo, be considered culturally insensitive? How'd that glistening barrel shot gun, glimmering Iron Cross (the punctum for us) and other western medals get there? Why is the central figure shrouded as if hiding? There is something haunting about the details even the text inked on to the negative so carefully--all of which seem obscure 110 odd years later. More mysteries are revealed upon close study of poses and personal construction of the subjects and pondering the text....

1 comment:

  1. We wanted this response to be posted with this group portrait -- it addresses relevant issues to "reading" the RPPC found on eBay. Much of the photographer's work was destroyed in a fire and some of the Native American imagery has been censored per online sources as it is considered culturally insensitive (e.g. mostly the captions):

    The image has haunted me, and I have continually pondered it. I can't tell if the photographer was a pro whose photograph was compromised by the demands of the subjects, or whether he was a wannabee pro who didn't quite understand the genre fully. It would be really interesting to see the rest of the images in that series. I say that because of the gun. The gun is the key to unraveling the image. It's obvious that the photographer knew the ethnographic photo fashion of the day, making it very trendy and up-to-date. He knew enough to get a weapon into someone's hands. But the weapons in ethnographic photos are NEVER guns. They are always spears, swords, knives, tomahawks, bow/arrow, etc. So the photographer was at least partially aware of the convention. But then there is the more complex fact that the gun is brand spanking new. Looks like it was never fired. That gun was just purchased, and probably purchased for the photo. But it would have made no sense (too expensive and too hi-tech) to buy a new gun just for use as a photo prop ... unless ... the gun was also payment to the Indians for doing the photos! In other words, the Indians *wanted* the gun. Their demand for the gun places them in partnership with the photographer, making them complicit in the staging. The photographer had to go along with it even if he knew it was not the right kind of weapon for the photo. It may actually have been the *photographer* who had misgivings about the image, especially if the subjects had decided on the gun as a condition of posing for the photo. Ethnographic subjects (whether for interview or photos were and still are generally compensated). This means we are looking at an economic and cultural exchange played out in the photo. This is most definitely not some photo of oppression or racism. It is incredible historical evidence showing the evolution of Native American relations in the state. Native Americans have nothing to feel shamed by in this photo. It is oddly cutting edge for its day. There is almost certainly a subtextual Native American voice in this photo which is subtly undermining the ethnographic pose (almost to the point of hilarity). Native Americans should claim these images, embrace and celebrate them, not hide or censor them. That particular photo does not depict them as simplistic subjects of racism, but rather the opposite; it shows Native American cooperation and authority in the production of the image. P.S. I spent several years at Northwestern studying ethnographic photos, esp. from 1890-1910, and have written on the subject, so my comments are sort of informed.