I wanted to update a photography project I’m undertaking. (Part one is here)
News headlines often advertise Pine Ridge reservation as the most impoverished county in America. No jobs, drug and alcohol addictions, are preyed on by camera people looking to profiteer on someone’s misery. Media coverage amounts to total voyeurism, a kind of tragedy porn, rather than anything that connects outsiders to our realities. In the movie Hotel Rwanda, a character is elated to see the media show up and film all the atrocities occurring. He says something to the effect “surely the world will see the struggle now and send help!” Another character says to him “No, they’ll flip it on during dinner, say ‘how terrible’, continue eating, and forget it by the end of the night”.
Where I live faces a similar predicament. TV specials about how bad things are fill the programming. Yet the litanies of problems contrasted with images of trash billowing around a passed out drunk seem to have helped no one. The whole media coverage of our people is filtered through a gaze not our own, that doesn’t always have our interests in mind. Everything becomes distorted. The negatives become magnified out of proportion, while many good things go unsaid because they don’t fit the narrative.
I’m a believer that the ugliness is a half-truth at best. A lot of beauty resides in this land alongside the suffering.
I love the dusk colors of a reservation night, the sky blue swept into nectarine hues of ash gold. I love the way the air grows colder as lavender light stains the clouds. I love the sun beams that scale down like blinds closing shut. I love the glow of the setting sun pulling gently on my skin. A person learns what night truly is on the plains. Star clusters are no longer kept at bay by street light halos. No skyscrapers cut the immensity of space into smaller, tamer ribbons. Nothing in the whole world is like watching that last ray fall.
Nothing feels better than turning off the asphalt onto the dirt road leading home. In the summer, sunflowers flank either side of the path. In years when rain is plentiful, they grow tall. When drought persists, they are short, desiccated things. The soil is sandy. Whenever the wind blows, that sand flies like loose snow. These hills are a remnant of the ancient Niobraran Sea. Fossils of prehistoric beings that lived here a hundred million years ago are often dug from their eon of slumber.
I believe it a great honor to subsist in the middle of all that life and history. The Pine Ridge reservation truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Though it often goes untelevised, unpublished in the media, there is so much more to show here than drunks passed out amid the trash. We live in a beautiful land. A land that has always been central to our values and identity as a people.
I imagine this whole project will take several years. I’d like to maybe come out with a book at the end of it all, filled with photos of the beauty of this place, along with some writing. I think its a necessary counter-narrative.
The next step in all this will be getting a better camera. The one I have now is one of the best cheap cameras around. Yet it falls short of professional grade. I would like this to be as well done as possible.
So I’ll throw it out there, because you never know who is reading. If someone has a professional grade camera they would like to donate, or otherwise help me procure one somehow, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Maybe someone has one they don’t use anymore, or that they could part with for a good cause. I’m saving up, but it will be some time before I gather that together. I may also look into a crowd funding option, where anyone who contributes would get a free copy of this book whenever its finished.