Century-Old Photographs Document Indigenous Culture at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History

Exhibit Focused on Photography Collection by Edward S. Curtis

'A Pomo Girl' by Edward S. Curtis | Credit: Courtesy

In an attempt to reposition the lens through which his works were originally perceived in the late 19th-early 20th century, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History is hosting an exhibit of photographs by the influential American photographer, Edward S. Curtis.

Running from November 11 through April 30 of next year, “Storytelling: Native People through the Lens of Edward S. Curtis” depicts century-old images of indigenous people living across the United States, from Alaska to the Mexican border.

Curtis’ original intent in publishing his collection of photographs was to invite awareness regarding the consequences that American colonialism and the U.S. government’s land grabbing policies would have for the culture and lives of indigenous people.

Yet, amidst the patriarchal backdrop and the way in which he staged his photos, Curtis’ photography unwittingly helped progress “Indian” stereotypes that are still being surmounted by Indigenous communities today.

Within the exhibit, the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History aims to display photographs that may not have been seen before, in what Museum Librarian Terri Sheridan says is “a broader exhibit for people, in terms of what’s on the walls as well as what their takeaways might be.”

Visitors can expect photographs that highlight the previously unseen women in these indigenous communities, as well as a repositioning of how Curtis’ work has been perceived in the past.

The exhibit is included in the cost of admission and is sure to bring a new perspective to profound historical images, as well as evoke a sense of honor and celebration of the unique culture of the photographed communities. For more information, visit sbnature.org.

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