The Photography of Will Wilson Currently on Display
The photography of Will Wilson (b. 1969) will be on display at the Denison Museum between August 23 and November 19 as part of his Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX) project. A contemporary Diné (meaning “the people” in Navajo) photographer who spent much of his adolescence living in the Navajo Nation, Wilson was born in San Francisco, California but currently lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Wilson develops his photographs using a technique called tintype, which was popularized during the Civil War. The process for creating tintypes involves producing a direct positive photograph on a thin metal sheet, which is then coated with a dark lacquer or enamel directly before exposure. He depicts Native American people and culture with pride, intimacy, and individuality. In addition to gifting his sitters the original photograph after each session, he allows his sitters to pose as they please and gives them free rein over the props they choose.
In “Walt Pourier, Citizen of Oglala Nation, Founder of the Stronghold Society” (2018), the graphic artist Walt Pourier poses with feathers and a skateboard of his own design to reflect his artistry and heritage, as well as the significance of skateboarding in his life. He founded the Stronghold Society, a non-profit that advocates for skateboarding with a focus on establishing and maintaining skateparks in Native American communities and has also been an artist-in-residence at the Denver Art Museum, where he was able to combine these two passions.
In the exhibition, Wilson’s tintypes are accompanied by the work of American photographer and ethnologist Edward Curtis (1868-1952), who made a career out of documenting the American West and Native American people between the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His magnum opus was The North American Indian (1907), a 20-volume book containing over 2,000 photographs commissioned by J.P. Morgan and later President Theodore Roosevelt to depict what was considered to be traditional Native American culture. For the book, Curtis traveled with and documented the people of over 80 different native tribes.
The photographs of the two artists can be put into conversation with one another as Wilson combines tintype photography with AR technology to create “talking tintypes” that literally give his sitters a voice, making them active collaborators in the artistic process, while Curtis documented traditional Native American culture at a time when Eurocentric and prejudiced views of Native Americans prevailed.
In 2021-2022, Denison University will feature Indigenous art exhibits, speakers, and dance performances by the Laura C. Harris Series focused on the theme, Imagining Together: Indigenous Activisms and Feminisms.
The exhibition was curated by Mindy Besaw, Curator of American Art/Director of Fellowships & Research from Crystal Bridges, and Ashley Holland, Associate Curator from the Art Bridges Foundation. In Conversation: Will Wilson is organized by Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Generous support provided by Art Bridges and the Laura C. Harris Series.
The museum is free and open to the public by appointment.