From both sides of the lens: anthropology, native experience & photographs of American Indians in French exhibitions, 1870-1890
Voelker, Emily Leslie
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This dissertation considers photographs of American Indians in Parisian exhibitions between 1870 and 1890 as part of a mobile and dynamic visual culture in the larger Atlantic World and as the embodiment of performative cross-cultural encounters. The project analyzes western American survey photographs disseminated abroad, as well as pictures of Native performers taken in the French capital. The study ranges from John K. Hillers’s output for John Wesley Powell and William Henry Jackson’s work for Ferdinand V. Hayden to the photographic albums of Prince Roland Bonaparte, the grandnephew of Napoleon I. Active in French scientific circles, Bonaparte photographed Plains Indian performers in 1880s Paris. Working within the developing fields of American and French anthropology, these photographers and their project directors transmitted pictures internationally in order to present their respective nations as scientific and political powers and showcase American Indians as figures of competing national patrimonies. Composed of four case studies based on exhibitions, the study challenges readings grounded solely on the original imperialist intentions of the objects’ producers. Instead, a transcultural perspective examines American Indian agendas and circumstances in these photographic exchanges. The dissertation also traces the changing meaning of these pictures over time. Chapter One analyzes a set of Hillers’s photographs of Hopi villages sent to the Société de géographie de Paris in 1877 by Powell as part of an international competition to claim authority regarding Southwest cultures. Chapter Two examines Jackson and Hayden’s Photographs of North American Indians (1878) similarly given to the Société d’anthropologie de Paris in 1879 in this culture of rivalry. However, a close reading of the volumes’ delegation portraits disrupts the imperialist framing of its text. Chapter Three explores Bonaparte’s album, Peaux-Rouges (1884) of frontal and profile photographs of Umonhon (Omaha) at the Jardin d’acclimatation and argues that references to performance and histories of contact subvert its essentializing physical anthropology approach. Chapter Four reads Bonaparte’s volumes of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Paris for the 1889 Exposition Universelle. Here, allusions to intercultural exchanges of the Lakota performers abroad, as show members and tourists, also challenge a hegemonic interpretation of Bonaparte’s anthropological photographs.
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