The lenses of settler colonialism: Karen Hughes, Cholena Smith, ‘Un-filtering the settler colonial archive: Indigenous community-based photographers in Australia and the United States – Ngarrindjeri and Shinnecock perspectives’, Australian Aboriginal Studies, 1, 2018, pp. 2-18


Abstract: In transnational settler colonial contexts, the photograph has been a tool of suppression, playing a key role in the categorisation of race and difference, as well as furthering the logic of elimination through gestures towards whiteness, authenticity and vanishing races. For Indigenous peoples living in early-invaded, densely settled areas, such as the participants in this study – Ngarrindjeri in south-eastern Australia and the Shinnecock Algonquin in the north-eastern United States (US) – the problem of visual representation has long contributed to a denial of their contemporary identity and to persistent discrimination. Administrative and anthropological photography in the early twentieth century across these settler colonial polities was inextricably connected with policies of assimilation, eugenics and anti-miscegenation, and to the making of racial categories. Yet at the same time that official photographers were consciously filtering out the impacts of colonisation – imaging perennial stereotypes of the lone plains Indian on horseback in full regalia, for example, or the northern Aboriginal man poised on one leg, spear in hand – pioneering Ngarrindjeri and Shinnecock women and men creatively seized upon the camera, experimenting with new technologies and media to counter these colonial imaginings. Producing rich archives in their own communities that assert visual sovereignty, their photographs narrate vital histories not known through other means. This paper arises from research with the Ngarrindjeri and Shinnecock communities to reveal the practice of two prolific Indigenous commuunity-based photographers from the mid-twentieth century: Charlotte Richards and Wickham Hunter. We explore the democratising ways in which they worked intentionally to undo colonial stereotypes and represent their people, shedding new light on Indigenous aesthetic traditions and technologies, identity, cultural continuity and belonging, and adding to recent transnational scholarship on visual sovereignty and the decolonising of the settler colonial archive.

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