First American Art Magazine No. 22, Spring 2019 - Page 49

Indians were people who could be captured and removed farther west. When gold was discovered in California in 1848, European-Americans began to feel the West could no longer belong to American Indians. The expan- sion of railways past the Mississippi River in the 1850s brought a flood of western migration that could not be held back. Not only were European- Americans spreading into Indian lands, but European diseases were permeating tribes in the West who had not been hit by the initial wave of diseases spread by European explorers from foreign shores. As waves of epidemics spread, conflicts for territory took place between the Western tribes, the tribes forcibly removed from the East, and white settlers. As news traveled back east, this led to the perception of the “Vanishing Race.” Easterners now wanted images of these vanishing noble savages, because they thought American Indians would become extinct. As Susan Sontag writes, “The pred- atory side of photography is at the heart of the alliance” between photography and tourism. Sontag links the completion of the transcontinental railroads in 1869 to the colonization of the West, with photography as a vital weapon. To her, “The case of the American Indian is the most brutal,” with “tourists invad[ing] the Indians’ privacy, photographing holy objects and the sacred dances and places, if necessary paying Indians to pose and getting them to revise their ceremonies to provide more photogenic material.” 2 Easterners were aware of the documen- tary power of photography through the efforts of Mathew Brady and other studio photographers’ work during the Civil War. Some of these photographers sepa- rated from Brady, and other influences, and went west to document the land and the people. Timothy Sullivan primarily focused on the land, but others sought to capture images of “real” Indians before they all, presumably, disappeared. By the 1890s, ethnologists attempted to rationalize racist beliefs through outmoded interpretations of cultural evolution which maintained that, due to their evolutionary state, American Indians just could not advance their culture as fast as the advancement of Western culture. American Indians had changed since contact with whites, because of something—apparently white superiority, as 19th-century European- Americans widely concluded—that made the Indians acculturate or accept aspects of white culture. To the extent above Matt Jarvis (Osage), Klandra B l e n d , 2018, digital photocollage. Image courtesy of the artist. opposite Matt Jarvis (Osage), Pop Art Osage Southern Traditional Dancer, 2003, digital art, 12 × 8 in. Image courtesy of the artist. 2. Sontag, On Photography, 64. SPRING 2019 | 47