Native Portraits: Contemporary Tintypes by Ed Drew is a series of portraits of members of the Klamath, Modoc, and Pit River Paiute tribes (tribes that were originally in California and southern Oregon). Drew was commissioned by a tribal mental health worker to photograph during several of intensive “talking circle” weekends in which participants recounted their experiences with racism, abuse, drug addiction, crime and tragedy. In their stories, Drew found connections to his own struggles with his identity as an African American. He was also drawn to the larger history of conflict between Native Americans and the United States government.
As Drew explains: “I am producing 5×7 tintypes of Klamath Falls tribes as part of a commission to redefine the tribal people in the area as no longer the victims of the injustices brought upon them by the U.S. government, but as strong and powerful people of today.” By using the tintype process, a popular portrait medium in late nineteenth century America, Drew connects the past to the present and re-contextualizes contemporary Native Americans as the protagonists of their own stories.
Drew won the trust of Modoc tribe members when he ran fifteen miles alongside them (in sandals) during a relay race to Lava Beds National Monument, the site of the Modoc War (1872–73).
In addition to Drew’s Native Portraits, CHS presents Sensational Portrayals of the Modoc War, 1872–73, an exhibition drawn from its collections of vintage photographs, newspapers, and books that often sensationalized the war, including carte de visite portraits by Louis Heller of Modoc Indians in custody following the war and stereographic views by Eadweard Muybridge (who was commissioned by the government to document the war) showing the desolate Lava Beds and picturing non-Modoc Indians reenacting battle scenes for his camera.