January 31, 2021
A Look Into A Look Into The American West
Taken by Joseph Kossuth Dixon, this photo of two Native Americans checking out a roll of film in 1913 looks absolutely stunning now that it's been colorized. Of course, it looks amazing in black and white as it was originally intended, but seeing this photo in color provides an almost otherworldly quality, that makes it feel like you're really there.
Photography had existed as a medium for decades prior to this photo being snapped, but people of all backgrounds were still getting used to seeing images captured through a camera. People who lived in dense urban settings may have been more used to seeing photographs than other people, but they were still astounded at the possibilities of this technology.
Watching these two native men looking through photographs feels almost voyeuristic. It's as if we're trespassing on a private moment from more than a hundred years ago. It's a truly fascinating thing to behold.
Taken by Joseph Kossuth Dixon during his third expedition across the United States to visit the country's many Native American tribes, this photo shows just how normalized technology was by the early 20th century even in rural areas. We often think of the indigenous people of America as being out of the loop when it comes to technology, but just because they were living away from the cities and eschewing some of the trappings of modern culture doesn't mean they weren't interested in what was happening in the zeitgeist.
With this photograph, Dixon captured a curiosity in these two men that exists throughout humanity no matter where you call home or where you're from. It's unclear from what little is written about this photograph, but it looks as if the men had a chance to take some photos of their own. What do you think those photos looked like? Were they snapshots of every day life in the tribe? Or did the men capture the grandeur of the world around them?
Joseph Dixon, man of mystery
Little is known about Dixon's early life. He grew up in poverty in Germantown, Pennsylvania, before earning a Bachelors of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary and then he just sort of dropped off the map. Dixon essentially disappeared for 30 years before popping up in 1908 as an “author, explorer, ethnologist, and authority on the American Indian.” We'll just have to take his word for it.
It's not clear how much of an expert Dixon really was, but it's likely that he worked as a missionary to the indigenous people of America, but even that's just grasping at straws based on his background. When he reappeared in 1908 he joined up with Rodman Wanamaker, a wealthy explorer who provided funding for young inventors when he wasn't traveling through the American west.
After joining up with Wanamaker, Dixon led two expeditions to Native reservations in different areas of the west in 1908 and 1909. However, it was his expedition in 1913 that gave us this photo and also ended his career as a traveler in the American west.