Apr 3–Apr 5, 2009
UC Davis

Historical photographs of Native American and global Indigenous communities have, and in some cases continue, to contribute to the construction of perceived identities and visual stereotypes of native peoples. However, this outsider’s perspective reveals more about the non-native photographer than the subject when compared to the works of Indigenous photographers who are visually documenting their own communities and regions. From as early as 1899, Native American photographers have been working in the medium; commissioned for portraits, documenting events, and recording daily life and community in this early form of visual sovereignty. Indigenous photographers and their sitters had the agency to choose when, where and the manner in which they wished to be imaged and documented.

Contemporary Indigenous photographers continue this practice while also being uniquely positioned to counter these earlier misrepresentations created by non-native photographers. The field of Native American photography is supported by a rich and continuous history that spans across the continent and is embedded in contemporary works that encompass a wide range of genres and subject matter including documentary, landscape, portraiture, political activism and (re)visioning, by utilizing a variety of imaging and printing techniques.

In April 2009, Tsinhnahjinnie and Passalacqua hosted the second gathering of Indigenous photographers at the C.N. Gorman Museum, University of California Davis. The conference and accompanying exhibition, entitled Visual Sovereignty, includes works by Native American, Hawaiian, First Nations, Inuit, Maori and Aboriginal lens-based artists. Tsinhnahjinnie will speak about her perspective of the concept of visual sovereignty while Passalacqua will examine how visual sovereignty is employed in the structure of the conference and exhibition as well as within artists’ works.

The event was organized by Conferences & Seminars grantees Hulleah Tsinhnahjinnie and Veronica Passalacqua, Native American Studies, UC Davis.