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Photographer Focuses on the Beauty of Pine Ridge

Posted By Toyacoyah Brown August 3rd, 2014 Last Updated on: August 3rd, 2014

No poverty porn here. Tom Swift Bird, an Oglala Lakota writer, musician and activist, has taken up a photography project over the past year. His mission is to show the beauty in the land he grew up on. I'd say he's off to a great start as these photos caught my eye.

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On his blog post Tom talks a little bit more about Pine Ridge. Here he is in his own words:

News headlines often advertise Pine Ridge reservation as the most impoverished county in America. No jobs, drug and alcohol addictions, are preyed on by camera people looking to profiteer on someone’s misery. Media coverage amounts to total voyeurism, a kind of tragedy porn, rather than anything that connects outsiders to our realities. In the movie Hotel Rwanda, a character is elated to see the media show up and film all the atrocities occurring. He says something to the effect “surely the world will see the struggle now and send help!” Another character says to him “No, they’ll flip it on during dinner, say ‘how terrible’, continue eating, and forget it by the end of the night”.

Where I live faces a similar predicament. TV specials about how bad things are fill the programming. Yet the litanies of problems contrasted with images of trash billowing around a passed out drunk seem to have helped no one. The whole media coverage of our people is filtered through a gaze not our own, that doesn’t always have our interests in mind. Everything becomes distorted. The negatives become magnified out of proportion, while many good things go unsaid because they don’t fit the narrative.

I’m a believer that the ugliness is a half-truth at best. A lot of beauty resides in this land alongside the suffering.

I love the dusk colors of a reservation night, the sky blue swept into nectarine hues of ash gold. I love the way the air grows colder as lavender light stains the clouds. I love the sun beams that scale down like blinds closing shut. I love the glow of the setting sun pulling gently on my skin. A person learns what night truly is on the plains. Star clusters are no longer kept at bay by street light halos. No skyscrapers cut the immensity of space into smaller, tamer ribbons. Nothing in the whole world is like watching that last ray fall.

Nothing feels better than turning off the asphalt onto the dirt road leading home. In the summer, sunflowers flank either side of the path. In years when rain is plentiful, they grow tall. When drought persists, they are short, desiccated things. The soil is sandy. Whenever the wind blows, that sand flies like loose snow. These hills are a remnant of the ancient Niobraran Sea. Fossils of prehistoric beings that lived here a hundred million years ago are often dug from their eon of slumber.

I believe it a great honor to subsist in the middle of all that life and history. The Pine Ridge reservation truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Though it often goes untelevised, unpublished in the media, there is so much more to show here than drunks passed out amid the trash. We live in a beautiful land. A land that has always been central to our values and identity as a people.

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Thank you Tom Swift Bird for letting us share your words and photos. I hope others will be just as touched by them. For more photos and updates on his project please visit his blog Notes from the Mad Abstract Dark.


Home » Native American Articles » Native American Culture » Photographer Focuses on the Beauty of Pine Ridge

About Toyacoyah Brown

Toyacoyah Brown is an enrolled member of the Comanche Nation, currently living in Chicago. She received her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Oklahoma and an M.A. in Media Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. When she's not scouring the Internet for fun things to share with PowWows.com readers you can find her digging for vinyl in her local record store or curling up with a good book.



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Donna

Hello Tom. I just want to tell you how beautiful your pictures of Pine Ridge are, and to say you have a beautiful spirit to match them. You obviously met a ton of opposition while trying to get an education, but you were strong and didn’t let them break you or dissuade you from your goals. Your writings are intelligent, articulate, interesting and very informative. By birth I am of European heritage. But by heart and soul I am absolutely Native American and can only hope and pray that someday all of The People will be recognized and respected for the treasure they are. Keep doing what you’re doing, you need to be heard.

Betty

HELLO TOM,
THANK-YOU FOR YOU’RE BEAUTIFULLY WORDED ARTICLE. I WAS IN SD A COUPLE OF WEEKS AGO AND WANTED TO VISIT THE RESERVATION. WHILE ASKING FOR DIRECTIONS, I WAS TOLD I WOULD NOT BE SAFE BY TWO PEOPLE. BUT, I TOLD THEM, I AM CHEROKEE. SURELY, THEY WOULD WELCOME ME. I WAS ALONE SO I DECIDED NOT TO GO. I HAVE A LOT OF TIME ON MY HANDS AND HAVE ALWAYS WANTED TO DO SOMETHING TO HELP MAKE LIFE BETTER FOR ALL OF OUR NATIVE AMERICANS. I THOUGHT OF WRITING A BOOK, OF TAKING PICTURES, ETC. BUT AS YOU SAY, I DID NOT WANT TO EXPLOIT ANYONE. I ASKED HOW I COULD SEND ANY DONATIONS THAT WERE NEEDED. I WOULD LIKE TO KEEP BRINGING THE PROBLEMS TO THE FOREFRONT AS IN THE SQUEAKY WHEEL GETS THE GREASE BUT I WOULD REALLY LIKE TO SHOW ALL OF THE POSITIVE THERE IS. I MADE A COUPLE OF FRIENDS WITH TWO LAKOTA LADIES IN MITCHELL AND DID GET A COUPLE OF IDEAS. I LOOK FORWARD TO MORE OF YOUR PICTURES. TAKE CARE

peterfoggoa

Hau kola pilamiya the stark beauty of Pine Ridge is amazing and you are right the negative view of a drunk does not reflect the truth of the res.

rene white

Thank you Tom.

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