Kate's Questions

1. Consider Dippie's assertion that American Indians historically (and currently) have been portrayed alternately as the "noble" or "bloodthirsty savage," staged in poses and surrounded by props that emphasize the particular type of Indian-ness the photographer or artist wishes to communicate. How does the narration and photography of the Indian Picture Opera combine to construct an image of the Indian? Is that image peaceful and noble, or frightening and war-like? What elements, similar to the men surrounded by weapons or dressed in suits that Dippie discusses, are emphasized to create it?

2. Pinney's article tells us that it is generally assumed that both Anthropology and Photography communicate through their respective mediums (pictures or ethnographies) some sort of basic, immutable truths about their subjects. But photographs and ethnographies are both influenced by the attitudes and agendas of their creators. In light of this, what agendas or attitudes toward Indians are evident in the Indian Picture Opera?

Kate Kilbane


Question 1

The Indian Picture Opera combines images and narration to give the audience a romanticized and distant view of American Indians. Phrases such as “Let us close our eyes and imagine”, “faraway, enchanted realm of primitive man”, and the use of past tense all help to create this romantic experience for the audience.
The phrase “Let us close our eyes and imagine” puts the audience in an interesting position. First, it distances the audience from the Indian culture by suggesting that they could only ever imagine what the Indian culture and lifestyle was like at the time of Edward Curtis’s work. It furthermore puts the audience in an “us” vs. “them” mindset. The civilized, Western audience can now look onto the others, and enjoy their dying culture.
This “dying race” mentality is further perpetuated by the use of the phrase “faraway, enchanted realm of primitive man”. While I cannot recall specific images from the film, I do remember that most of the images were very romantic and noble in nature. This is probably due to the belief at the time of Curtis’s filming that the Indians were a dying race. It was common for photographers and painters at the time, then, to try to preserve the Indians’ inherent nobility or savagery; whatever the specific case may be. (Dippie 133)
Finally, the consistent use of the past tense in the Indian Picture Opera puts the finishing colors into Curtis’s notion that Indians should be remembered as noble, romantic figures of the past. This tense gives the audience the perception that the Indians were a dying race, when in all actuality, they were not. Had Curtis decided to use the present tense more frequently in his narration, perhaps the audience may have at least subconsciously viewed the American Indian culture as alive, instead of dying out.

Rochelle Rogers

That agenda with attitudes toward Indian Humans are evident in the Indian Picture Opera? The human voice near the beginning of the video says "with the indians, theirs is a strange world. Myself a human, knowing that voice was doing his propaganda best to speak for those in those photo's shown in the video and not in that video. He had no authority to speak me an Anishinaabe Indian guy, nor for the those depicted in the video scenery. While I was listening to that inhospitable not so desert like male voice describing obituary style war log stories such as those words he that narrator human spoke. Some of the often used grammar vocabulary are: warriors, enemies, attack, tribesmen, stock, chief of all, pack animals, apache, savagery, primitive religion, defeated, material things. Those are some of that human male narrators voiced words he used to describe his main topic of human nicknamed Indians and many other names. The agenda was in motion prior to the video and exists with todays attitude as those same grammar vocabularies are still writ, voiced and communicated. Sunny L.

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This page contains a single entry by Carter Meland published on September 14, 2009 8:15 AM.

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