National Museum of the American Indian
4th Street and Independence Avenue, SW
2nd Level, Sealaska Gallery Floor Plan
By the end of the 19th century, the platinum print process was of primary importance to art photographers—valued for its permanence, wide tonal variation, and “fuzzy” aesthetic. Photographers such as Edward S. Curtis, Gertrude Käsebier, and Joseph Keiley famously printed their photographs of North American Indians on platinum paper, using the prints’ highly romanticizing softness to represent the “Vanishing Race.”
Larry McNeil (Tlingit/Nisgaá) and Will Wilson (Diné/Bilagaana) challenge this visual ideology. McNeil uses the platinum process to topple expectations of what constitutes the Native portrait and, more generally, Western conceptions of portraiture. Wilson creates portraits of “today’s Indians” on metal plates, then digitizes the plates, makes large-scale digital negatives from the scanned images, and uses historic printing processes in a wet darkroom—calling attention to the manufactured nature of all photographic images.