Crow Indian Photographer: The Work of Richard Throssel

Article excerpt

Crow Indian Photographer: The Work of Richard Throssel. Peggy Albright, foreword by Joanna Cohan Scherer. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

Peggy Albright's book is the first extensive study of Richard Throssel (1882-1933), a Creek Indian adopted into the Crow tribe. He lived and worked among the Crow beginning in 1902, photographing them extensively for both artistic and official purposes. After a brief introduction to Throssel as "an Indian who had no tribe" and the Crow community that took him in, Albright makes an extensive examination of his aesthetic foundation as someone with the ability-as well as the opportunity-to mediate between his adopted culture and the outside world. She then reproduces numerous Throssel photographs with explanatory comments by contemporary Crows.

Albright is very self-conscious in presenting Throssel's work; while the rediscovery of a thousand photographs of Native Americans taken by a Native American comprises a significant historical cache, she is sensitive to the exploitation, inaccurate interpretation, and political controversy such publications have invited in the past. The pictorial style of Native American photography pioneered by Edward Curtis often romanticized (or simply misrepresented) their subjects for dramatic effect, and Albright invites us to consider the extent to which Throssel participated in this tradition. Unlike many coffee table books, this book presents 74 of Throssel's plates but its emphasis clearly is on the photographer's relationship with his world; it is a thoughtful, painstaking examination of who Throssel was, who his subjects were, and the extent to which his work actually contributed to documenting and understanding Crow society.

Albright's discussion of Throssel's life and work provides crucial context for all his photographs. Another study might have either sanitized or politicized Throssel's apparently paradoxical biography, but Albright gives us the facts and allows us to draw our own conclusions. Until this publication, Throssel was known primarily for a series of 39 photos marketed to an affluent white audience under the title "Western Classics," which self-consciously sentimentalize the Indian past while proclaiming Throssel an "authentic Indian" in their advertising. …