Newspaper article

'Invisible' Dick Bancroft Chronicled Historic American Indian Movement

Newspaper article

'Invisible' Dick Bancroft Chronicled Historic American Indian Movement

Article excerpt

Sometimes a great photograph is there for the taking. You just need to be there at the right moment with a camera -- at least, that's how many people, such as the management at the Chicago Sun- Times, think it works.

But to document a truly complex event, you need a higher level of photography skills, a deeper understanding of humanity, and the patience and dedication to stick with a story beyond the first moment, even when that moment lasts 40 years.

In 1968, a young St. Paul photographer named Dick Bancroft began taking pictures of a group of Native Americans working to draw attention to problems facing their community. Inspired by the gains the Civil Rights Movement made for black Americans, the group wanted to plot a new course for a community that was badly damaged by a bleak education system, economic injustice, environmental destruction and health issues.

Bancroft became an invisible part of the group, which became known as the American Indian Movement (AIM). Floating on the periphery of events in Minnesota, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and other sites across the country, Bancroft became AIM's visual historian, and 180 of his photos have been gathered into a book, "We Are Still Here: A Photographic History of the American Indian Movement" (Borealis Press).

"In 1968, there really weren't Indian photographers, because film processing and cameras were so expensive," said Laura Waterman Wittstock, an author and radio host (First Person Radio and Turtle Island: Voices Rising on KFAI) who wrote the text for the book.

"There was never an official arrangement between Dick and the people he photographed. There was an understanding that AIM needed images, and on Dick's side, he was someone who was in pursuit in images. And because of his experience in Africa [in 1967, Bancroft took his family to Kenya as part of a church group], he came to recognize the dignity that people have even when they are extremely poor. He understood what AIM was trying to do. And Dick knows how to hide himself and get out of the picture. You can see in these photographs how wonderfully he knew how to do that."

Bancroft's images document a distinctly 1960s experience, as tribal elders in traditional dress mingle with young people who embodied their own moment in time, in fashion and action.

He got pictures of powwows and demonstrations. He joined AIM as the group organized a peaceful takeover of an abandoned U.S. Naval Air Station building, justified by using language from an 1805 treaty that indicated that land that was abandoned by the government could be returned to the tribes.

He captured indelible images of children attending Indian schools. He also witnessed (and risked, himself) police brutality and arrests, despite being a non-Indian part of the experience.

Wittstock documents the stories behind the photos. …

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