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Exploring the Massacre Sites of the West

I just returned from a very long journey through seven states (Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona, and California) in the American west. It was a nine day trip traveling over 2,500 miles (3.200 km). It was a journey of observing, thinking and making photographs - in that order.

Because I'm unsure of the final outcome of this project, I'm going to keep the majority of the images unpublished (kind of like the sites themselves). The reason for this is that I want to be sure where ever I exhibit this work, and when I publish a book of the work, that it makes sense. I want to maintain creative control. If I publish every image I make, I won't have control of the story. So, for right now, I'm only publishing one or two images per expedition.

There are so many places here in the west that these terrible events occurred, it's very difficult to select the sites I want to photograph. There's also access issues in a lot of these places. Some of them are very difficult to get to, and some are set aside as sacred by the tribes. Sometimes, I would just observe the places. I would just take it in and not even think about making a photograph. I call this, "warming up". It's very difficult for me to just drive somewhere, setup, and start cranking plates out. I don't work like that, and on this project, it's impossible to work that way. It's a slow, contemplative journey. The places that demanded I make a photograph, I did. It was strange that way, I knew what would work and what wouldn't.

On this trip, I drove through four Indian Reservations. These places are both depressing and deplorable. They were originally called prisoner of war camps and were all assigned numbers. We call them "reservations" today to soothe our conscious - to make it "okay" to keep the Indians in their place. I would love to make a body of work about these places, but it's only a passing thought. I was struck by how many places have whitewashed over the history I'm making work about. There are billboards all over the southwest advertising "Indian Jewelry", "Indian Pottery", and "Moccasins for the Whole Family". They've “Disneyfied” genocide.

I learned a lot on this junket. I learned how difficult and how rewarding this project is going to be. Every time I go out, I find myself closer and closer to understanding what I'm doing. I'm still anxious about making this work live up to its concept. In the end, I'm confident that my passion and drive to communicate these massacres through striking and powerful imagery will come to fruition.

Here's an image from this outing. On the plate, you can see a Raven standing there looking at me. The winds were gusting and the sun was beating down. I stood there waiting for him to take off - I wanted to have him appear as a ghost in the image. He didn't want to do that, so I exposed the plate as he stood proudly for his portrait.

Native Americans have great respect for this bird. Several southwestern tribes heralded the Raven as the bringer of light that escaped from the darkness of the cosmos. Thus, they associate this bird with creation because it brought light where there was none.

Other tribes looked upon this bird as a trickster or even a shape-shifter because of its high intelligence and ability to adapt to different situations.

Because they fly high toward the heavens, they can take prayers from the people to the heavens and, in turn, bring back messages from the spiritual realm.

The Raven also played a significant role in the Ghost Dance.

Skull Valley Massacre, 1864
A group of Yavapai families was lured into a trap and massacred by soldiers under Lt. Monteith in a valley west of Prescott, Arizona. The place was named Skull Valley after the heads of the dead Indians were left unburied at the base of the Teepee Mountain.