Beyond the Frame addresses photography of Native Americans

Laura Gilpin, American (1891-1979), Francis Nakai and Family, 1950, Gelatin silver print, Museum purchase, National Endowment for the Arts Grant, 75.99

When photography arrived in the United States in 1839, populations of indigenous people in the East had been largely decimated by disease and forced removal to the West. Excluded from the new nation, Native peoples are also notably absent within the borders imposed by photographers of the eastern American landscape. Yet, Native Americans participated as the subjects of portrait photography from the very first years of the medium. Drawn almost exclusively from NOMA’s permanent collection, a focused presentation in the Pailet Gallery for photography titled Beyond the Frame: Photography and Native American Lives addresses a few of the ways in which photographers from outside of Native communities have represented Native American identity from the 1840s to the present, and considers how Native peoples have expressed their own vitality from the other side of the camera.

Presented concurrently with East of the Mississippi: Nineteenth-Century American Landscape Photography, this exhibition will engage with a history in photography, one that, while suggested throughout the larger show, mostly exists just beyond the frame. Beyond the Frame enables visitors to consider visual representations of Native peoples through a variety of photographic processes, ranging from the daguerreotype to contemporary color prints, and including such artists as Edward S. Curtis, Laura Gilpin, and John Willis. Visitors will have the opportunity to view some of the earliest examples of Native American participation in photographic portraits, and consider questions about how photographers from outside of Native communities have used the camera and the print to express different ideas about Native American identity over time. Viewed jointly with selections of Native American Art from NOMA’s collection currently on display, Beyond the Frame will also raise questions about how photographs have simultaneously reflected and shaped the history of Native Americans, both east and west of the Mississippi River.

Brian Piper, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow for Photography

Support for Beyond the Frame: Photography and Native American Lives is provided by the A. Charlotte Mann and Joshua Mann Pailet Endowment Fund.