40: Illustration from Camera Craft
(Top) An Indian and his pet skunk - A healthy mother and a happy baby;
(Bottom) Sixty and Six - Wood for the Evening Meal
by Mildred Ring
Palmquist, Peter E.. "Women Photographers and the American Indian," in An Idaho Photographer ln Focus. (Pocatello, Idaho: Idaho State University, 1993), pp. 121-149.
Palmquist, Peter E. (editor). Camera Fiends & Kodak Girls: Writings by and About Women Photographers 1840-1930. New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1989.
Ring, Mildred. "Kodaking the Indians," Camera Craft 31, no. 2 (February 1924), pp. 71-76.
Introduction to Essay
© Peter E. Palmquist
By the 1920s Indians had become picturesque subjects for amateur camera fiends to photograph at will. Few, however, asked the Indians for permission to take their photographs, and fewer still made any concerted effort to interact equally with these beleaguered subjects. The author was very aware of these unflattering stereotypes and has gone to considerable effort to avoid the arrogance of her fellow Kodakers.
Kodaking the Indians
by Mildred Ring, 1924
To the tyro, the surrounding difficulties attending this particular branch of outdoor photography are no doubt minimized to a formula similar to this:
With thorough kodak equipment and fair assortment of Woolworth's jewelry, go to some remote spot accessible by automobile, which you have previously found marked on the map as an Indian reservation. After putting up at the local hotel, saunter forth in the cool of the morning, and, upon encountering your subjects, display said jewels, after which you may state your preference in costumes and poses. A near diamond scarf pin should result in something unusual in photographic art, perhaps, a chief in war paint and feathered head-dress; while a string of red beads will certainly produce that masterpiece in genre, Indian maiden, canoe, red dress and perpendicular feather. If these articles are not effective, offer celluloid cigarette holder and brass vanity box.
Wishing neither to disparage nor discourage, still I feel it incumbent to disabuse anyone from such fallacious reasoning. A three months' kodaking experience among the Indians of the Klamath River has utterly destroyed any such illusions that I might have previously entertained. The first and last requisite to success in this line of photography, so far as the subjects are concerned, is that you have a natural love for this race of people. It is something impossible to fake, for instinctively the Indian senses your true regard for him. Therein lies the secret of his confidence in you. And without that, all the money and the gewgaws in the world cannot accomplish your purpose. I might add that other characteristics which are essential assets to this game are, tolerance, patience, perseverance and the happy faculty of adjusting one's self to any surroundings.
While friend kodak has been my one and only pal on this expedition, I have often felt that it diminished the cordiality of my welcome. However, as an incentive it has been a go-getter, even though every result has cost me, - not merely a cheap jewel, - but miles of hiking over lonely mountain trails, miles of river canoeing with riffles that made the brow drip and the heart pray, a laborious distribution of Lady Bountiful packs via shoulder and shoe leather, hours of nursing the sick and the injured under rather depressing conditions and O, just oodles and slathers of tact and attempted understanding.
Possibly a few more intimate details such as smacking my lips over burned acorn soup; playing the clown by ludicrous but sincere attempts to "guttural" their language; making a human flea trap of myself by hours of doorstep sociability amidst pet skunks, kittens, dogs and babies; squatting cross-legged indefinite periods in lung-killing smoke-houses, waiting for the spirit to move my host or hostess to be kodaked; accentuating the charm of individuality by saturating myself with that bath-defying "odeur inimitable," the essence of smoked salmon; having my person pawed over and my pockets rifled for a stick of gum by smudgy but dear little youngsters; kneeling on the floor to dress a ghastly wound wherein a whole side was torn open to the internals; and contesting the right of way, although rather feebly, in a narrow trail with a black bear, might round out the impression with finer perspicuity. - It has been a grand trip, this one on the Klamath, and I've loved every minute of it, every adventure and every person I have kodaked. I can heartily recommend it to all lovers of the primitive, knowing that to them hardship but gives a tang adventure, and that to their discerning eyes romance lurks in every dirty hut and in every wrinkled face.
In many respects, I believe that being a woman has proven an advantage. I seem to have been regarded with less suspicion. Wishing to forestall any misunderstanding, I made my mission quite obvious from the beginning. And, notwithstanding an inherent antipathy to the kodak, I have managed to so far overcome the prejudice that a request made today to kodak an old Indian woman was met with a hearty, "Sure!" The more unusual in that old women cling strongest to racial idiosyncracies.
Incipient in the Indian's temperamental make-up is a fear of the supernatural. They live in constant fear of death. "Good medicine" is a preventative used under all conditions. An arrow is shot into a sacred tree with the accompanying wish, "I like to live long time!" A woman wears a wild currant leaf, symbol of good luck, under her basket cap as a precaution against the grim invader. In their sweat-houses, men smoke sacred Indian pipes and pray to their gods that they and their families might be granted the long-life blessing. And so on with innumerable instances of a primitive people's superstitious demonstration of the primal instinct.
Coupled with their fear of death is a fear of spirits. The dead are disposed of as quickly as possible and the mourners bark and howl their grief in order to frighten away the evil spirits.
When next you attempt to photograph an Indian, friend tourist or fellow kodak enthusiast, and he turns his back or otherwise spoils your film, bear with him tolerantly knowing this to be his belief: The picture produced is a materialization of his spiritual self which is bound to cause his death. For only in death can the spirit take form.
In many instances, as the accompanying photographs will verify, I have been able by repeated visits, repeated gifts, repeated friendly overtures and, with those mercenarily inclined, a dollar or two, to overcome this superstition. But I always respect their belief and each picture has been taken with their full consent.
The younger Indians, having accepted the ways of the white man, have been educated away from the inhibitions placed by superstition. In truth, many of them own kodaks themselves. However, their consent to be kodaked is oftentimes as difficult to obtain as that of the older Indians. This antagonistic feeling was explained to me by a Carlysle woman in this way:
"A tourist passing through hops out of his machine with his kodak and says, 'Hey, you, line up! I want to get your picture!' Then he chooses a setting and attempts to back us up against it. I wonder how kindly the white people in Los Angeles or San Francisco would take to the idea of our appearing on their streets with a kodak and demanding that they line up for their pictures. It seems that they overlook the fact entirely that we, too, are human beings."
Such pictures as the old woman pounding acorn flour and the woman carrying the burden basket, represent a twenty-five mile trip up the Klamath. Originally, I planned making this trip in a canoe but as my party increased in numbers we decided upon a sailing skiff. However, "big wind he never come," so we, therefore, blistered our hands rowing and poling over the rapids as far as Blue Creek where we hooked on behind a gasboat, thus completing our journey in ease to the Indian village of Wah-tek. Here, I found inspiration for prolific kodaking, but several days elapsed before I could make anything other than mental pictures. The popular prejudice was so pronounced that I all but despaired. Then I discovered an opening wedge - the promise of colored enlargements.
Of course, there have been a few disappointments. I hiked five miles up a mountain at Ah-paw, the former Chas. Willis Ward ranch, with but a single remaining exposure in my kodak to obtain a lengthened view of the Klamath canyon, - and then the film was scratched during development. But the pleasure of the hike and my remembrance of the view more than counterbalances this disappointment.
Old Widow Tom, pounding the acorn flour, is one of the oldest Indians on the river. She remembers the advent of the Wa-ge (white man), and has a fund of interesting stories of that exciting time. She bears the distinction of being a "medicine woman."
The three girls in Indian dress were participants in a brush dance. After an all night's vigil, - I needs must see everything, - I took this picture just at daylight about six thirty. Giving it a time exposure of one second with stop 32.
The picture of the boy in the canoe cost me my Ingersol watch. Thereafter I reckoned time by the sun, "Injun" fashion.
If you will observe closely you will notice that the kodak has failed to emphasize one interesting feature, the conventional hundred and eleven tattoos which adorns the chins of all the older women.
But my pictures are failures if they can not, for the most part, tell their own stories. The smattering I have given is merely to impart to you my idea of the fascination and the intricacies of this particular branch of outdoor photography.
For this work, I have used ordinary 3A and 2A Eastman kodaks. Most of my results are time exposures, ranging from a fifth of a second, stop 64, on bright days, to a minute on dark days or in the shade of the forest.
Women Photographers and the American Indian
compiled by Peter E. Palmquist
Camera Fiends & Kodak Girls: Writings by and About Women Photographers1840-1930.
New York: Midmarch Arts Press, 1989.