The camera never lies. Except it does, of course.
Photos of indigenous people, for example, are often staged to reinforce stereotypes or serve sociopolitical purposes.
Christine Turnauer turns that concept on its head by giving agency and control to the subjects of her photos. See the results in the I saw more than I can tell exhibition at the Weltmuseum Wien.
- Portraits of indigenous people from North America
- Photos taken in 1986 at traditional powwows
- Runs May 7, 2021 – Jan 11, 2022
- See also: Weltmuseum ticket and visitor tips
A change of perspective
(Charles Tailfeathers, Blood Tribe, 1985 © Christine Turnauer)
A cursory glance at the black and white portraits hanging in the I saw more than I can tell exhibition suggests a display of old photos of indigenous people from North America in traditional costumes, perhaps taken at the turn of the century.
A closer look reveals something quite different.
The clarity of the prints indicates more recent work, a point emphasised by the occasional appearance of modern glasses or a studded belt of the kind once popularised by Soho punks.
In truth, the portraits date back to around 1986 and the work of Christine Turnauer. But the photos differ in other vital ways from the older portrayals we associate with some enforced stereotype of long ago.
Nobody prodded anyone into position here, manipulating the scene to conform to some preconceived notion of how indigenous North Americans should look and present themselves.
Instead, the men, women and children retain control of their pose and expression. As one of the wall texts notes, the photos are taken with the subject not of the subject.
This change of perspective and transition of power feels particularly poignant in 2021 given recent discoveries about the deaths of indigenous children in Canada’s residential schools (operated as part of a forced assimilation programme).
Turnauer took the photos in a studio tent she set up at powwows: social gatherings for indigenous North Americans involving traditional competitive dancing. The portraits feature representatives of numerous tribes, including Cree, Blood, Shushwap, Blackfoot, and Kanai.
The neutral background and absence of colour draws your eye to both the physical details of the costumes and, particularly, to the stance and countenance of the people pictured.
The faces express a mix of emotions. Pride and strength feels dominant, but with some skepticism, even a hint of challenge. Only one or two choose to smile.
Tickets and dates
Enjoy the black and white portraits from May 7th, 2021, to January 11th, 2022. A ticket* for the Weltmuseum (or a Vienna Pass) gets you into the temporary exhibitions, too. The photos also appear in Turnauer’s third published collection: I saw more than I can tell is published by Hatje Cantz.
If you visit before September 14th, you can take in a second photo exhibition down on the ground floor: Now you see me Moria shows life in a refugee camp in the Aegean, as seen through the lens of the refugees themselves.
How to get to the exhibition
Use the suggestions for reaching the Weltmuseum. Once inside, go up one floor to find the photos in their own self-contained gallery just off the atrium.
Address: Heldenplatz, 1010 Vienna