affectionate photos show importance of family and community
is most striking about Tom Jones's photographs are the relaxed
and very heart-warming pictures of the Ho Chunk people. In a recent
interview, Tom Jones said that he was selective about what pictures
he took. He wanted to show the lightness and sense of humor that
is an integral part of his community, his tribe, the Ho Chunk
Ho Chunk, historically, have occupied much of Wisconsin, from Green
Bay down to northern Illinois. They have also been relocated seven
times under the Indian Relocation Act of 1830, mainly to Nebraska,
Minnesota, and South Dakota, but many have returned to Wisconsin.
Ho Chunk People
an ability to capture worlds of meaning in a single photograph,
Tom Jones, in his work The Ho Chunk People, sets his tribe in the
contemporary while being ever- conscious of the past.
lacks in previous Native American photography, Jones set out to
mend. "What's most important to the Ho Chunk is the community and
the family. This is something that hasn't often been represented
in photographs taken of Native Americans," he said.
to photograph in black and white, he recalls the early days of Native
American portraiture. Jones wanted people not to see the last images
of a dying way of life or Native Americans "romanticized" by being
relegated to the past, but a people who are a part of a vibrant
community who hold on to their traditions.
his photographs, Jones plays on the relationship between the subject
and viewer. The people are looking directly at you. The environment
around them tells their story and who they are as a member of the
Ho Chunk nation and as an individual.
subjects reveal themselves in subtle ways. Family portraits hang
from walls and every available counter space to show the importance
of family. Pictures of a bear on a person's shirt indicate what
clan they belong to. Sunglasses on an elderly lady make her a mystery
to us; she tells us who she is when we look at her surroundings.
father worked for Kodak, so Jones grew up with cameras. Jones originally
pursued painting and graduated with a bachelor of fine arts degree
from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1988. Jones later took
up photography as a medium to quickly express his ideas.
foray into photographing his tribe came quite by accident. "I was
in Wisconsin, planning on photographing some of the effigy mounds.
It was raining that day, so I instead used the opportunity to take
pictures of the tribal elders, many of whom have an extensive knowledge
of Ho Chunk history and culture. I then realized this is something
I need to be doing, to preserve our heritage and culture."
admits there are few Native American photographers. During the 19th
and early 20th centuries, few Native Americans had access to cameras.
Children were put into boarding schools and forced to give up their
language; their religion was banned by the U.S. government.
Ho Chunk were simply trying to survive. Attending higher education
was out of the question for most, and cameras were a luxury few
could afford. Thus, Native Americans had little means to record
their own history.
the Wisconsin Dells area, a major tourist attraction and part of
the original homeland of the Ho Chunk Nation, Jones sets his sights
on the absurdity, profundity, and manipulation of the popular "Indian"
image forced upon the Ho Chunk by the tourist industry in his work,
exclaims, "We see headdresses, totem poles, tepees, pueblos, but
nothing from our original Ho Chunk culture."
pop culture now represents Native Americans, and unfortunately many
have adapted to it. Jones stated, "Hollywood is all that is represented,
so we oftentimes use those images in representing ourselves."
Commodity reveals the images of native peoples altered and stylized
by the Wild West shows and pop culture at the turn of the 20th century.
Much of that identity is hard to erase and has left a cultural void.
Just about every aspect of the Ho Chunk culture has been misrepresented.
with other Native American artists, this is something hard to escape,
and many artists feel a sense of duty to challenge that image in
the history of the Ho Chunk and other Native American tribes, there
has been a struggle to maintain and protect their identity as well
as to rectify what has been taken from them for over five centuries.
photography stands as an archival work reclaiming for future generations
the Ho Chunk's sovereign identity.
Jones's work has won numerous awards and has been exhibited in an
expanding number of institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary
Photography in Chicago and the Smithsonian Institution's National
Museum of the American Indian. For more information on Tom Jones
and his work, please visit www.tomjoneshochunk.com.