Themes: Outdoor Photographs

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Unknown. Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

While on the road with Buffalo Bill's Wild West, the Native American performers were treated like celebrities. In city after city, news articles chronicled them as the stars of the show, after Cody of course. Their roles in the program were carefully scripted, playing out the enemy to Cody, the military, and the cowboys. On the road, the performers would set up camp in each city which often provided equal entertainment for the crowds who had never seen tipis up-close.

The initial visit of the nine Sioux men to Gertrude Käsebier's studio on in April 1898, was just the beginning of her relationship with the Wild West performers. Her series of outdoor photographs depict Sioux camp life during the show and demonstrate the openness with which the performers welcomed Käsebier. Many of these outdoor photographs are cross-listed with informal portraits in categorization because of their depiction of people, and thus portraiture. Many are posed, yet still defy the standard up-close facial portraits or profile busts typical of the formal portraits taken in the studio. The outdoor setting provided Käsebier with new action and a different type of candidness in the photographs than her in-studio informal portraits allowed.

Unknown. By Gertrude Käsebier. Photographic History Collection, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.

There are some anomalies in the outdoor photographs, however. Four photographs in the Smithsonian's Käsebier collection are views of what may be the Plains of South Dakota showing Sioux women in missionary dresses moving their children and belongings with horse travois, using tipi poles as supports. (Green 2000, 59-60) These photographs are pictorial in nature, and seemingly in Käsebier's style, but no personal record exists to document her visiting the Indians on the reservation. Whether or not she visited her new Sioux friends on the reservation, Gertrude Käsebier formed and maintained close relationships with some of the performers in Buffalo Bill's Wild West for years to come. No doubt, the invitation to visit was extended to her all the same.

Just as the nine men who showed up at her studio for the first April visit wore their finest regalia, the camp photographs show a similar phenomenon. The men and women pull out their shields, pipe bags, necklaces, and breast plates to pose outside their tipis. Käsebier photographed the Sioux as they wanted to be photographed and in return received genuine friendship and openness from her outdoor "sitters," and even earned the opportunity to photograph Spotted Tail's son. The longevity of these friendships is most evident in the letters and other documents kept by Käsebier.

Search the collection to view all Käsebier's outdoor photographs.