This project examines the use of photography in the colonial expansion of North America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Bringing together research on photography as a visual documentary technology with research on the classification of colonized lands, resources, and peoples, this project explores the multifarious ways that photographs of Indigenous North American peoples were constructed and used by non-Indigenous settlers. This research is necessarily a decolonizing project that aims to destabilize the objectivity of photographic documentation to show how this archive structures a fantasized ‘before’ and ‘after’ of settler contact that erases the violence of Indigenous-settler relations to depict North American colonization as a benevolent intervention.

The projected outcomes of this research are twofold: a book-length manuscript on colonial ‘before and after’ photography in North America, and a teacher’s resource to support student engagement with this photographic archive.  In the book-length manuscript, I trace how photography has facilitated the visual construction of a fantasized ‘before’ and ‘after’ colonial contact through four sites in which these images were produced: scientific expedition (the First International Polar Year of 1881-1884); missions and residential/boarding schools (in Canada and the United States); business (the Hudson’s Bay Company); and commercial photography (for example, the work of Edward S. Curtis).  The second goal of this work is to investigate the most effective ways this research can be applied pedagogically, through public education as well as at the secondary and post-secondary levels, in the spirit of healing through settler acknowledgement and responsibility for colonial violence in the present and past.  I would like to create a web site and and teacher’s resource e-book to honour the truths that the settler production of these images attempted to conceal.  I am very inspired by the Where Are The Children? Healing the Legacy of Residential Schools project in this endeavour. 

From April to May 2011, I was the Jackson Brothers visiting research fellow at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, and I have conducted research at the BC Provincial Archives, the City of Vancouver Archives, the Hudson's Bay Company Archives, and the Library and Archives of Canada in support of this project.  This research has been presented nationally and internationally, will be published in the Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes, and I am currently working on a book proposal and an article based on this research.

Related research outcomes

[In progress journal article]  “Psychical Landscapes of the Canadian North: Lorene Squire’s Nascopie photographs for The Beaver Magazine, 1938.” 

“Colonial Encounters at the Turn of the 20th Century: ‘Unsettling’ the Personal Photograph Albums of Andrew Onderdonk and Benjamin Leeson.”  Journal of Canadian Studies/Revue d’études canadiennes 49, 2 (2015): 227-267.

“Psychical Landscapes of the Canadian North: Lorene Squire’s Nascopie Photographs for The Beaver magazine, 1938.” Women’s and Gender Studies et Récherches feministes Annual Conference, 2014 Congress of the Social Sciences and Humanities, Brock University, St. Catharine’s, Ontario, May 25-27, 2014. 

“Lorene Squire’s Photographs of Indigenous Women for The Beaver Magazine, 1938.”  Research presentation to the Hive for Feminist Research at St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, January 17, 2014.

“Colonial Encounters: ‘Unsettling’ the Late 19th Century Personal Photograph Albums of Andrew Onderdonk and Benjamin Leeson.”  Meeting Places/Lieux de rencontre: An International Canadian Studies Conference, September 18-21, 2013, Saint Mary’s and Mount Allison Universities, Halifax, Nova Scotia and Sackville, New Brunswick.

“Colonial Desires and the Photograph as ‘Contact Zone’: The Studio Portraits of Indigenous Peoples of British Columbia by Richard and Hannah Maynard.” Rethinking Race and Sexuality: Feminist Conversations, Contestations, and Coalitions.  April 17-19, 2013, Simone de Beauvoir Institute, Concordia University, Montreal, Quebec. 

“North American Colonial Photography and the Disavowal of Interstitial Space.”  Body and Technology: Instruments of Somaesthetics.  January 24-26, 2013, Center for Body, Mind and Culture, Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida. 

“Richard Henry Pratt's Passion for Cultural Erasure and Assimilation.” The Association for the Psychoanalysis of Culture and Society Annual Conference: Pathos, Politics and Passion, November 5-7, 2011, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey. 

“Transforming the Indigenous ‘Other’: Settler Fantasies in ‘Before and After’ Photography.”  Invited lecture, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT, May 17, 2011. 

“Medical/Colonial Fantasies in Before and After Photography.”  Anthropology Brown Bag Lunch Lecture Series, St. Francis Xavier University, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, 21 January 2011. (Also presented as a lecture to Patricia Cormack’s Sociology of Mass Media class on February 10, 2011.)

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Settler Fantasies and Colonial ‘Before and After’ Photography