Obscuring the Distinctions, Revealing the Divergent Visions: Modernity and Indians in the Early Works of Kiowa Photographer Horace Poolaw, 1925-1945


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


History of Art


Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw (1906-1984) was one of the first Native American professional photographers in the early twentieth century and was witness to the intense transitions experienced by indigenous peoples of Oklahoma. Among Native photographers of the time, Poolaw stands virtually alone in his ability to represent contemporary Indians in all of their contradictory complexity. This dissertation examines Poolaw’s photographs as participants in a dialogue about modernity and Indians, both contested terms that were in constant flux throughout the years of his professional activity. It demonstrates how Poolaw’s portraits obscure the seemingly clear and invariable lines between Indians and the industrial, fashionable, sophisticated, progressive, and Christian white world. This study delineates the significance of Poolaws’s career between the years of 1925 and 1945, the height of the period of indigenous artistic resurgence in Oklahoma.