The works of Indigenous photographers won't just be represented during this year's Month of Photography; they will be projected downtown on the Daniels & Fisher Tower by Night Lights Denver from 7 to 11 p.m. nightly until the end of the month.
The selections come from Indigenous Photograph, a global collective with over sixty members worldwide, founded in 2018. The group supports Indigenous photographers in an industry that too often omits their voices — even when it comes to documenting their own communities' stories.
“A lot of times, [publications] will send a non-Indigenous person into a reservation or a community, and it’s not our story; it’s their story," explains Indigenous Photograph member Camille Seaman. "It’s their interpretation of who we are and how we live.”
The Colorado Photographic Arts Center wanted to challenge that trend, so it invited Indigenous Photograph to select thirty artists to be showcased at Night Lights Denver, as part of the Month of Photography festival.
“Together, these images constitute a portrait of life during 2020. And though we struggled through the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread civil unrest from the United States to Nigeria to Hong Kong, we hope these photos will also show you some quieter moments of hope and connectivity from life across Indigenous territories,” Indigenous Photograph explained in a statement.
The group's co-founder, Josué Rivas, hopes that the exhibition will do something to increase acknowledgment of the different tribes who still live in the Denver area and those who have lived in the area in the past. Rivas cites the history of the Urban Relocation program, under which Indigenous people were moved from reservations to cities like Denver in the post-war era to become “assimilated” and “civilized.”
Seaman, whose work is highlighted in the show, didn’t begin her career in photography until she was thirty. Before she became a photographer, she had worked as a bike messenger, delivering mail to the World Trade Center. She was shaken when she watched the planes hit the building on September 11, 2001, while holding her daughter in her arms.
“Somewhere in that period just after 9/11, I realized I wanted to document my life and show that there was something beautiful about this life and this planet — and that we really are going the wrong way, in so many ways,” she recounts.
Not long after, she gave up a seat on an oversold Alaska Airlines flight from Oakland to Los Angeles and was offered a free round-trip ticket to anywhere she wished. She decided to go to Alaska.
“That set in motion this series of events that led me to working in Antarctica and chasing tornados,” she relays. She cold-called National Geographic photographer Steve McCurry, whose “Afghan Girl” portrait of Sharbat Gula is known around the world. McCurry invited her to join him on a trip to Tibet.
Seaman wasn’t always confident about photographing landscapes, however. When she first arrived in Antarctica, she thought to herself, “What am I going to photograph?” But then she remembered something her grandfather had taught her: that everything is interconnected. Stones, trees, birds, fish — ”that’s our relatives,” she explains. “You’ll see that my [photos of] icebergs, it’s about them sitting. It’s them in that moment, as they are, to show some part of their character.”
Citlali Fabian, whose work is also part of the show, says, “Photography has been an answer to explore my own identity. Through photography, I’ve had the chance to approach different members of my community. Photography started for me as a journey of self-recognition.” Her work allows her to explore different parts of Mexico and Los Angeles while reconnecting with her relatives.
Seaman wants her work to inspire people to think differently about the climate crisis.
“Colorado is a mixed community; it’s purple. I know a lot of people don’t necessarily feel concerned about climate issues, and I purposely chose these landscape images," she says. “I hope through showing beautiful photographs…people will feel engaged enough to start a dialogue about their own position on this planet.”
Seaman and Fabian, along with photographers Tailyr Ann Irvine and Eli Farinango and CPAC executive director and curator Samantha Johnston, will participate in a virtual panel discussion at 3 p.m. Thursday, March 25.