Entries in Native American Massacre Sites (4)


Updates: July 2014

I have a few bits of news and updates to pass along. 

The Ghost Dance Project: Native American Massacre Sites

I've been preoccupied with my project for the last few months. The work is going great. However, it's a slow and difficult process, but going well. 

I'm still trying to figure out how/what I want to create for the final product. For the last while, I thought I wanted to make silver gelatin prints from the wet collodion negatives, but I am rethinking that now. I've been experimenting with this for a few months and there are too many variables to stay consistent. It would force me to make all Half Plate (4.25" x 5.5") wet collodion negatives. Not a bad thing, but feels limiting to me. I haven't given up completely on this idea, just opening up to other possibilities. 


I'm also considering getting some funding to make this happen (to publish the book and make a series of prints to sell). It's been very challenging to this point in that aspect as well. I've made three photo trips so far, some 6,000 miles around the Western United States. Every site has been a challenge; access, weather, light, etc. Not for the faint of heart.
Every time I return to Denver after a photo trip, I think, "well this project is going to take a few months longer than I thought." I don't have a hard timeline on the work (learned my lesson from the past) but do need to see this come together in the next year or so (would love to have my first exhibition on the autumn of 2015). Things could move faster if I can get some support behind me. 


The other element to this work is publicity. I need to get the word out that I'm working on this. I want to attract some interest for feedback, venues to exhibit the work when it's complete, and prints sales. 


To break up the struggles, I've decided I'm going to make portraits (Native American descendants of the massacre sites or related history). for a while. At least I can work out the final product this way. Currently, I'm leaning toward POP prints from negatives and larger prints - maybe archival inkjet prints - we'll see. The important part is to have this made the right way. As I've always said, "It's a process, not an event." Deep breath!


One more addition to make this project a reality - I needed a better vehicle for pulling my trailer. I traded my Rav Sport in for this, a Toyota Tacoma Baja truck. Towing capacity of 6,800 lbs. This will get the job done! A really nice vehicle.

2014 Toyota Tacoma Baja Edition.


Wet Collodion Workshops

And the other piece of news is my workshops. I will be teaching an Introduction to Wet Plate Collodion Photography on July 12-13. And I will be teaching an Advanced Wet Plate Collodion Workshop: Making Negatives & POP/prints, August 29, 30, & 31
The next workshops will be offered in October/November, 2014.


Wet Plate Collodion Books & Podcast Videos

Please let people know that they can find my books on wet collodion photography on my site - I have both print books and an iBook - for Apple computers and iPads - there is a Kindle version, too. 


I will be back making videos (The Studio Q Show) soon. Like I said, I've been preoccupied with The Ghost Dance project. If you have a topic you'd like to see in a show, let me know.


Wishing you the best light!

Here's a recent image from the project. It's called, "Turtle Rock Meadow Massacre" in Medicine Bow, Wyoming. I traveled the Sand Creek Memorial Trail and made plates along the way. I really like the fact that the image has artifacts (black comets streaking from the sky) that look like tears falling from heaven. Subtle, but powerful.  Copyright 2014 Quinn Jacobson



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.

Ghost Dance Statement

"Ghost Dance: Native American Massacre Sites"
Photographs by Quinn Jacobson

"I have seen in my mind that some time, after I am dead, light-skinned bearded men will arrive with sticks spitting fire. They will conquer the land and drive you before them. They will kill the animals who give you their flesh that you may live, and they will bring strange animals for you to ride and eat. They will introduce war and evil, strange sickness and death. They will try and make you forget Maheo, the Creator, and the things I have taught you, and will impose their own ways. They will take your land little by little, until there is nothing left for you. I do not like to tell you this, but you must know. You must be strong…because you are the perpetuators of life and if you weaken, the Cheyenne will cease to be."
Sweet Medicine
Cheyenne Prophet

The purpose of this project is to remember the suffering and to transmit that memory in order to fortify conscience, to plead for decency, to strengthen values, and to intensify a commitment to human dignity.

Bruce Johansen and Robert Maestas, in, "Wasi'chu, The Continuing Indian War", said, "The first people who lived on the northern plains of what today is the United States called themselves ‘Lakota,’ meaning 'the people'," a word which provides the semantic basis for Dakota. The first European people to meet the Lakota called them ‘Sioux’," a contraction of Nadowessioux, a now archaic French-Canadian word meaning ‘snake’ or enemy.

The Lakota also used a metaphor to describe the newcomers. It was Wasi'chu, which means "takes the fat," or "greedy person." Within the modern Indian movement, Wasi'chu has come to mean those corporations and individuals, with their governmental accomplices, which continue to covet Indian lives, land, and resources for private profit.

Wasi'chu does not describe a race; it describes a state of mind. Wasi'chu is also a human condition based on inhumanity, racism, and exploitation. It is a sickness, a seemingly incurable and contagious disease which begot the ever advancing society of the West. If we do not control it, this disease will surely be the basis for what may be the last of the continuing wars against all people that believe in a better way."

My images deal with genocide and the broken treaties of the mid-to-late 19th century in the western United States. There is a long, sordid history of European occupation and genocide of the native people starting in the 16th century in North America. After defeating resisting Timucuan warriors, in 1539, Hernando de Soto (Spanish) had 200 Native American men, women and children executed. This was the first large-scale massacre by Europeans on what became American soil. This was called, "The Napituca Massacre".

I've selected the massacre sites of the 19th century because of my location (Denver, Colorado), my own heritage, and because of the photographic process I'm using (Wet Collodion). My intent with these images is to represent the horror, betrayal, injustice, and genocide; they are not documentary images. In the end, this is not only about land, it's about the greed of humanity, the indifference to suffering, the intolerance of difference, and the human condition. It's about the Wasi'chu.

In 2005, I had my DNA tested through The Genographic Project (National Geographic). My Y-DNA (father) is Jewish and my mtDNA (mother) is Native American. My mother's heritage goes back to the Ket people or Yenisey ostyaks people. The Ket language is virtually the same as the Navajo or the Na-Dené languages of North America. My mother comes from the Navajo tribe of the southwestern United States.

Growing up, I was conflicted about how to think or feel about this diverse, and unique, heritage. My father told stories about his grandfather always telling him to not disclose his Jewish heritage. And, at the same time, my mother would be telling me about my uncle hunting and fishing on the Shoshone-Bannock reservation (Fort Hall) in Idaho where he lived. This started, what I now know as, an identity crisis for me. I was confused about what I was hearing and wondered why I came from two peoples that were not wanted by the Europeans and both experienced genocide. My heritage, or the tension in my identity, has been the muse for the majority of my work.

Making landscape images of these sacred places has burdened me with the anxiety of showing the proper respect and, at the same time, making engaging art. It's challenging and difficult. A lot of these places are truly beautiful. For me, it's almost like making a portrait of a person. In the spirit of the Indians of all tribes, it does feel like the land is alive. I believe that every one of these sites has remnants of the people murdered there and that the land remembers what happened there. It's palpable if you are present and look long enough. I want the viewer to feel, and contemplate, both the beauty and the horror of these places.

What do we do with this history? I say we embrace it, study it, wrestle with it and transform it into a weapon for the human spirit; one that will enlarge our sense of responsibility, alleviate human suffering and strengthen our moral resolve.

"I have come to kill Indians and believe it is right and honorable to use any means under God's heaven to kill Indians."
Colonel John Chivington
1864, Sand Creek Massacre
Sand Creek, Colorado



Native American Massacre Site Project (NAMS): Finding The Aesthetic

Have you ever thought about a project for years? Researching, writing, reading, watching, consuming everything you can about a topic. And then, you finally make a move to bring those ideas, questions, and concerns to life. 

That's what's happened here. After over two decades of thinking about making this project a reality, I went out and started making plates. In my previous blog about this topic, I posted the test (positive) plate from Cold Creek Gulch. Here, I'm showing you some prints from the wet collodion negatives. 

I'm not entirely over the moon about the first outing, but it's satisfying. It is the first outing; it's started and that's what I'm excited about. 

Right now, my head is spinning with possibilties of what this could be. And this is when it gets scary for me. I tend to over think things like this. I will take a topic or a subject and strip it down to its bare essence. Sometimes, that's good, and other times, not so much.

The good part is all about vision and planning. A major component of this project is planning. Light, environment, access, etc. For example, do I want to be in Pine Ridge, South Dakota (Wounded Knee) in October? July? January? What is the light like? What access do I have? Etc.  I have to plan this for about fifteen sites that I'm doing. I may end up doing more or less, I'm not sure, but it's a lot of planning to do it right. That's where the obesession and preoccupaiton is an asset. 

The bad part of that obessession is being indecisivive and tripping on all of the small stuff. I don't want to over think the final image(s). I want to decide on something that's appropriate and that adds depth, dimension, and power to the work without killing it with craft. Craft is a slippery slope. It's easy to become preoccupied with it and loose sight of the purpose of making the work. 

I titled this blog, "Native American Massacre Site Project (NAMS): Finding The Aesthetic". That's a little bit misleading in that I've already decided on an aesthetic; wet collodion. I'm really referring to how I handle that process, specifically, how I print the wet collodion negatives. There are several options; Albumen, Salt, Collodion-Chloride, and even silver gelatin. My dilemma is walking the fine line between abstract landscapes and what I refer to as "traditional" landscapes. On the first site, I made one of each (see below). I like both of them, however, for this project, I want something in between. And, who knows? Maybe each site will allow me to make that decision while I'm there. It kind of happened on this outing. 


Whole Plate Albumen Print - "Three Stone Massacre Site - 1878"  

 Whole Plate Salt Print - "Three Stone Massacre Site - 1878"