Exhibit juxtaposes images old and new.
By Konnie LeMay -- Today correspondent
LOS ANGELES - From daguerreotype to digital, from non-Indian photographers taking ''tourist shots'' in the past to contemporary Indian photographers creating art from their own culture - this rare juxtaposition is offered in ''Picturing the People,'' a new photographic exhibition that will run until Jan. 27, 2008, at the Autry National Center in Los Angeles.
It's all about ''visual sovereignty,'' said photographer Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie, one of the organizers as well as one of the featured artists. ''The belief in sovereignty was taught to me when I was young by my mom and my aunties. 'This land is Native land;' instilling that into us.''
Sovereignty can apply to art, too, according to Tsinhnahjinnie, whose heritage is Seminole, Muskogee and Dine'. ''You can either be written about, or you write it. The perspective is very different.''
The exhibition, organized into historic and contemporary sections, features photos of indigenous people from North and South America, the Pacific and the Middle East.
The historic images are part of the center's Braun Research Library Collection and they were selected by guest curators Hartman Lomawaima, Hopi; Lee Marmon, Laguna; and Tsinhnahjinnie. The other section, titled ''Our People, Our Land, Our Images: International Indigenous Photographers,'' was organized by Tsinhnahjinnie and Veronica Passalacqua, both with the C.N. Gorman Museum at the University of California - Davis.
''We're trying to show how Native people picture themselves instead of primarily the historic images,'' said Kim Walters, director of the Braun Research Library. In choosing from the historic collection, she added, ''We made sure we covered the time and the cultural areas that were strongest in the collection.'' Those early images are by such well-known photographers as Edward S. Curtis, Walter McClintock, Frank Rinehart and Charles Lummis, who started the Southwest Museum of the American Indian - one of three institutions under the umbrella of the Autry National Center.
With few television stations available on the Dine' reservation as she was growing up, Tsinhnahjinnie said that it was National Geographic, LIFE and Look photographers documenting America and other cultures who brought her a view of the world and eventually brought her to photography. Particularly influential for her in understanding the impact of images was ''The House of Bondage'' by Ernest Cole. ''It was so powerful; he documented apartheid.''
When Tsinhnahjinnie graduated from high school, her father asked what she would like as a gift. ''I really wanted a 35mm camera,'' she said. Her father, an artist, traded a painting for a Nikon and her work was launched.
She began photographing her family - it was a great way to annoy her sister, Tsinhnahjinnie admitted - and then found that the camera took her to places around the world. Her work includes ''Memoirs of an Aboriginal Savant'' in 1994 and ''Portraits Against Amnesia'' in 2003. Her work often combines older photos and new elements in collages.
While many younger Indian people are made to feel ''not authentic enough'' if they don't speak their traditional language, Tsinhnahjinnie says that her camera has given her a creative voice. ''I communicate visually; therefore, I claimed photography as my primary language.''
Another contemporary photographer featured in the exhibition, Dugan Aguilar, Paiute/Pit River/Maidu, said in an audio recording (online at www.autrynationalcenter.org) that he likes to make images that ''still show that traditions are alive and well and being passed down.''
In the week just before the opening of ''Picturing the People,'' Tsinhnahjinnie helped to tour some visitors through the duel exhibition. She found that the juxtaposition of old and new, Indian and non-Indian photographers, ''is sort of like two eyes looking; you have a balance.''
In considering the historic images taken of Indian people, however, Tsinhnahjinnie joked that a true contrast might require something extra. ''The true balance,'' she chuckled, ''would be if the Indian photographers would exhibit pictures of white people.''