Double Exposure

JUN 14 – SEP 9 2018

Seattle Art Museum

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Double Exposure: Edward S. Curtis, Marianne Nicolson, Tracy Rector, Will Wilson features 150 images by a historic photographer, alongside immersive experiences from three contemporary artists. Across a spectrum of media rooted in lens-based processes, all four artists contribute to a complex and ever-expanding portrait of Native America.

The advent of photography changed the way we see each other and ourselves, and the camera lens has been employed by artists in many ways since. American artist Edward S. Curtis set out with his camera in the early 1900s to document the Indigenous peoples of North America, mistakenly believing they would soon vanish. Marianne Nicolson creates monumental glassworks, projecting traditional Dzawada’enuxw First Nation expressions into a contemporary context. Through film and digital media, Choctaw and Seminole creative Tracy Rector intimately shares the stories of the Native peoples of the Salish Sea and beyond. Diné photographer Will Wilson reclaims the early image-making technologies used by Curtis to create a new archive of Indigenous representations. Double Exposure offers an opportunity to explore Indigenous identities from multiple, sometimes conflicting, viewpoints.

Double Exposure is presented as part of a community-wide initiative revisiting the photographs of Edward S. Curtis and sparking conversations on Native identity, race and resilience, art and culture. Find out more at Beyond the Frame: To Be Native.


This exhibition is organized by the Seattle Art Museum in partnership with the New York Public Library.

Special exhibitions at SAM are made possible by donors to
Brotman Fund for Special Exhibitions

Presenting Sponsor
Seattle Office of Arts and Culture

Major Sponsor
Ellen Ferguson &
The Hugh and Jane Ferguson Foundation

Supporting Sponsors
Muckleshoot Indian Tribe
Suquamish Clearwater Casino Resort and Port Madison Enterprises

Additional Support
Contributors to the SAM Fund
Lummi Indian Business Council
Suquamish Foundation
Tulalip Cares Foundation

Double Exposure smartphone tour sponsored by
The Seattle Times

The Seattle Art Museum invited Asia Tail to craft this content as part of our desire to put Native voices first in this exhibition.  

Asia Tail is an artist, curator, and arts administrator based in Tacoma, Washington. She is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, and a proud member of the diverse Urban Native community in the Pacific Northwest. Tail is a member of the Double Exposure advisory committee.

Edward S. Curtis

Negative / Positive

White photographer Edward Sheriff Curtis was born in 1868 in Wisconsin, and eventually moved to Washington, where he started his first photography studio in Seattle. With varying levels of accuracy, Curtis passionately dedicated his life to documenting the cultures of Indigenous peoples, at great personal cost to his family and finances. He worked with over 80 tribes, producing thousands of images, many of which he published alongside anthropological text in The North American Indian, a 20-volume portfolio set completed in 1930.

On view are rarely seen examples of his photos across many media: sepia-toned photogravures, platinum prints, sliver gelatin prints, cyanotypes, and orotones (goldtones), a process perfected by Curtis. The exhibition also includes one of Curtis’s cameras, lantern slides he used in multimedia lectures promoting his project, audio field recordings of languages and songs made on wax cylinders, and a projection of his docu-drama feature-length film made in British Columbia, In the Land of the Head Hunters (1914).

The images Curtis created continue to affect Indigenous peoples today in positive and negative ways. His records of traditional life are deeply valued by those who use the photographs and accompanying text to reconstruct cultural practices and remember ancestors. However, Curtis’s artworks reflect his personal biases, and he often staged his portraits to reflect the misguided belief that Native peoples were incapable of survival in the modern world and were a vanishing race.

Double Exposure gives us a chance to examine Edward Curtis’s legacy with a fresh lens, to learn from and contend with his images, and then to move forward. One hundred years ago Curtis was in the middle of creating The North American Indian, and his photographs still occupy a powerful place in the American consciousness. I hope that in another 100 years his pictures will be a distant memory, replaced by new visions of Indigenous identity created within our own communities. The three Indigenous artists in the exhibition are making work in spite of, not in response to, Edward Curtis. All the same, to view their contemporary works alongside those of a photographer who believed we were on the brink of extinction is a powerful gesture toward healing, and proves the adaptability, resilience, and strength of Native peoples past and present.

Marianne Nicolson


Marianne Nicolson is a visual artist, scholar, activist, and a member of the Dzawada‘enuxw First Nation of the Kwakwaka‘wakw First Nations in what is currently British Columbia. Her practice is informed by historical research, her background in linguistics and anthropology, and Dzawada’enuxw First Nation ways of being. She has exhibited artwork around the world and published numerous essays and articles on issues of Aboriginal histories and the politics of cultural revitalization and sustainability. She works with many materials, but for the exhibition she used glass and light to create Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven), an installation that beckons you into the exhibition.

During the planning stages of Double Exposure, the advisory committee of local Native community members had a chance to meet the Indigenous artists in the exhibition. As we looked through the Edward Curtis photographs being considered, Marianne Nicolson shared a lesser-known history behind the pictures featuring Kwakwaka‘wakw dancers, including members of her own family from a few generations back. The Kwakwaka‘wakw recognized the questionable intentions of Curtis coming to photograph them, but took advantage of the situation to practice religious ceremonies that had been otherwise outlawed by the federal government for generations. The photographs took on a new dimension for me after hearing Nicolson’s story. Despite Edward Curtis’s intentions, his images reveal evidence of historic Indigenous resistance and political will hidden in plain sight.

This overlapping and entangling of multiple perspectives permeates Marianne Nicolson’s artworks. For instance, in Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven) Nicolson was inspired by the many histories of the Columbia River from the communities that lay claim to it. The immersive sculptural installation consists of a 14-foot-tall glass archway emitting otherworldly blue light through etchings that cast a long shadow along the floor, walls, and ceiling of the gallery. In a contemporary form, this artwork presents an age-old message about the life-giving importance of water in Kwakwaka‘wakw culture, the continued need for its protection, as well as ongoing negotiations surrounding rights to the river and land sovereignty. Ḱanḱagawí (The Seam of Heaven) is a special commission for Double Exposure.

Tracy Rector


Tracy Rector is a mixed race (Choctaw/Seminole) filmmaker, curator, educator, co-founder of Longhouse Media, and community organizer based in Seattle. Her award-winning films have been screened worldwide at festivals, exhibitions, and on television. All her projects are for, by, and about Indigenous communities, particularly the Coast Salish peoples on whose territories she lives and works. Over her career she has made hundreds of films, and in 2016 she created the first virtual-reality video by a Native artist, Ch’aak’ S’aagi, which is on view in the exhibition.

As an extension of her filmmaking practice, Rector also creates media mentorship and training programs to provide Native youth with the tools to tell their own stories. I first met Tracy Rector during the summer of 2007 as a moody 16-year-old participating in one of her SuperFly Film Workshops. She taught us how to plan, shoot, and edit short videos, which were debuted at the Seattle International Film Festival. I remember going to the premiere, expecting the kind of small back room, half-filled with parents that is typical for youth events, and instead walked into a packed theater in the heart of downtown Seattle. We watched our films, and to my teenage surprise received a standing ovation. The experience was a revelation in more ways than one, and I glimpsed a potential future as an Indigenous artist that I hadn’t realized was possible before.

Recognizing media as a modern continuation of a long tradition of storytelling and intergenerational mentorship, Rector utilizes a collaborative filmmaking process. In both films on view, Ch’aak’ S’aagi and Clearwater: People of the Salish Sea, Rector works with Indigenous peoples in our region to share their experiences adapting to a rapidly changing landscape. She remains out of the camera’s view, but her deep personal connections to the communities she films can be felt in the openness of her interview subjects, or in the firsthand perspective from inside a canoe skimming across the water. She brings these scenes to life at SAM by creating engaging viewing environments for both films, filling the gallery space with shells, tools, and cultural creations by fellow artists.

Will Wilson


Will Wilson is a Diné cultural practitioner working primarily in photography. His work is informed by the history of portraiture and Indigenous representation in American art. He was born in San Francisco, spent his formative years on the Navajo Nation Reservation, and currently lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he works as an artist and educator. Wilson is part of the Scientists/Artists Research Collaborations (SARC), which brings together artists interested in using science and technology in their practice with collaborators from Los Alamos National Laboratory and Sandia Labs as part of the International Symposium on Electronic Arts. In 2012, he initiated the Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange (CIPX), collaboratively creating portraits of Indigenous artists, educators, and community activists using an early photographic wet plate process.

I was lucky enough to have the chance to experience Will Wilson’s work firsthand when he brought CIPX to the Seattle Art Museum in November. He walked me through each step of the process as he made my tintype portrait, and in the darkroom we watched as the excess silver finally washed away to reveal an exposure. Experiencing Wilson’s work feels like time travel. Unlike most photographs, the image on a tintype is reversed, like looking in a mirror. Through the patina the century-old process leaves on the image, I recognized myself, but simultaneously felt like I was looking at a portrait from another time. Seeing myself captured in that way humanized past generations, and reminded me that future ones will one day examine the modern images we are currently creating of ourselves.

The Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange takes the historic tintype photographic process that was once used to objectify Indigenous peoples and reclaims it as a tool for Indigenous self-representation. Wilson has now created over 2,000 photographs using this method. On view in Double Exposure are new portraits Wilson produced of local community members, including a descendant of Chief Seattle, and influential creatives from urban and reservation communities. “Talking” tintypes, created using augmented reality, show the sitters dancing, singing, and speaking to us—a far cry from the stoic silence in many Curtis portraits.

About the Advisory Committee

Seattle Art Museum convened a group of Native advisors, from diverse backgrounds and affiliations, to provide guidance throughout the exhibition planning process.

Double Exposure Native Advisory Committee: Dr. Charlotte Coté (Tseshaht / Nuu-chah-nulth First Nation); Jarrod Da (San Ildefonso Pueblo); Colleen Echohawk-Hayashi (Pawnee Nation / Upper Ahtna Athabascan); Andy Everson (K’ómoks First Nation); Jason Gobin (Tulalip Tribe); Darrell Hillaire (Lummi Nation); Madrienne Salgado (Muckleshoot Tribe); Lydia Sigo (Suquamish Tribe); Asia Tail (Cherokee Nation); Ken Workman (Duwamish Tribe)

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