I have seen this photo before.
This image is inside my Nova Scotian white settler upbringing. Pressed into pages of history books. Taught as a document of the far past. A noble, proud, fierce savage is what I absorbed from that dominant cultural consciousness. The colonizing histories of public school textbooks could be told in the side and front view of this photograph, Peelatchiwaaxpáash/Medicine Crow (Raven).
Here, the stillness of document.
Here, becoming photographic object: 1880 Crow peace delegation.
Here, subjects of anthropological study.
Red Star takes these images from the National Anthropological Archive, and frees them from stillness. She traces in red ink around objects; notates; adds speech balloons; explains; diagrams. Red Star’s marks are obsessive; they are everywhere. The marks could be read as the red ink of correction, or decoration, or, perhaps, these meticulously traced lines are a devotion.
Seeing the work at the Columbus Museum of Art, I lean closer. It is impossible to avoid wanting to become privy to the secret of her handwritten notation. In so doing, I am held in an active state. Let’s call this the wonderful discomfort of not knowing. For instance, the notations Red Star has made seem possibly fictional, but also, probably not. The writing changes tense and speaker before I can situate a particular voice, or become sure of authorial location. Who here is saying “I killed two”? Is Red Star channeling the voices of the past? Do these hair bows truly represent “physically overcoming an enemy and slitting their throat,” as the red marker tells us? Perhaps. These additions are not the scientific notations of say, the diagraming of a flower, a building, an object.
Who, for instance, is the notation “visionary medicine man” intended for? Is it a reflection of monolithic categories of Indigenous identity, or does Red Star point to a truth that also touches stereotype? I am not sure if the joke’s on me. How do I interpret this handwriting? Is this of research, of personal experience, of fiction? The more lines of explanation, the more red words on the surface, the more it splinters. I am held in a state of unpredictable seeing and knowing. The image is not still.
I chose this image, from the series, “1880 Crow Peace Delegation” (2014), because here another line is added to the image—a line of damage—the rip, the fold of the photographic material. The crack of emulsion goes right through the face of the subject. He is not bothered by it. He continues to stare to the side of the frame, while the world fractures.
This flaw makes evident the very material of the photographic document, and I suddenly am aware of the material of my own body. I feel the floor of the museum beneath my feet; sense the movement of time. The tear is both wound and escape. Red Star’s marks create unsteady suture.
I have not seen this photo before.