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Indigenous photographer Will Wilson show opens Friday at Yellowstone Art Museum

Posted at 5:31 PM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-16 19:31:35-05

BILLINGS — An exhibit showcasing the work of Navajo Nation citizen and photographer Will Wilson opened Friday at the Yellowston Art Museum (YAM). The show is titled "In Conversation with Will Wilson".

“A lot of people saw Native Americans as this vanishing race, and Wilson’s photographs tell us they didn’t go anywhere," said Kimberly Gaitonde, a museum curatorial assistant with YAM. "It’s a constant journey for Indigenous people today to reclaim their stories and their narratives."

Wilson's work is juxtaposed against the work of photographer Edward Curtis. Alive in the 1860s through the 1950s, Curtis amassed a portfolio of portraits of Indigenous people over his lifetime.

"Although (Curtis's) work was, kind of, an encyclopedia, it was informational. It wasn’t necessarily accurate, and the sitters in the photographs weren’t given agency," said Gaitonde.

The series of photographs from Wilson are also all portraits of Indigenous people taken on wet plate collodion photography. His work is said, by museum staff, to emphasize a contemporary presence of indigenous culture, as opposed to Curtis's portrayal of the culture as something lost or fading.

“A lot of these people (in Wilson's photographs), they’ve chosen things that are important to them in their lives, like skateboarding and music, and that’s not something that was shown in Curtis’s photographs,” Gaitonde said on the difference between the accuracy of representation in the two sets of photos.