Horace Poolaw, Photographer of American Indian Modernity


Horace Poolaw, Photographer of American Indian Modernity

Laura E. Smith
Foreword by Linda Poolaw

232 pages
85 photographs


June 2016


$65.00 Add to Cart

October 2021


$30.00 Add to Cart
eBook (PDF)
Ebook purchases delivered via Leaf e-Reader

June 2016


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About the Book

Laura E. Smith unravels the compelling life story of Kiowa photographer Horace Poolaw (1906–84), one of the first professional Native American photographers. Born on the Kiowa reservation in Anadarko, Oklahoma, Poolaw bought his first camera at the age of fifteen and began taking photos of family, friends, and noted leaders in the Kiowa community, also capturing successive years of powwows and pageants at various fairs, expositions, and other events. Though Poolaw earned some income as a professional photographer, he farmed, raised livestock, and took other jobs to help fund his passion for documenting his community.
               Smith examines the cultural and artistic significance of Poolaw’s life in professional photography from 1925 to 1945 in light of European and modernist discourses on photography, portraiture, the function of art, Native American identity, and American Indian religious and political activism. Rather than through the lens of Native peoples’ inevitable extinction or within a discourse of artistic modernism, Smith evaluates Poolaw’s photography within art history and Native American history, simultaneously questioning the category of “fine artist” in relation to the creative lives of Native peoples.
               A tour de force of art and cultural history, Horace Poolaw, Photographer of American Indian Modernity illuminates the life of one of Native America’s most gifted, organic artists and documentarians and challenges readers to reevaluate the seamlessness between the creative arts and everyday life through its depiction of one man’s lifelong dedication to art and community.

Author Bio

Laura E. Smith is an associate professor of art history at Michigan State University. Linda Poolaw is the daughter of Horace Poolaw.


“Smith has crafted a solid social history that helps us think beyond Edward S. Curtis’s nostalgic salvaging process. . . .  This book usefully follows [Smith’s] methodology, continually engaging and explaining Poolaw’s doubled life, providing a sense of contemporary social pressure as well as long-standing tribal values.”—Katherine Hauser, Great Plains Quarterly

"Horace Poolaw's photography provides an important historical look at Kiowa life in the early twentieth century because he captured daily life as it happened. Horace Poolaw: Photographer of American Indian Modernity benefits from the ample inclusion of Poolaw photographs throughout."—Jared Eberle, Chronicles of Oklahoma

“Horace Poolaw was a . . . talented photographer whose work has gone largely unnoticed by mainstream art and photographic historians. Laura Smith does an excellent job of placing Poolaw’s work within a historical and cultural context and makes a convincing argument that these photographs reflect a conscious effort by Poolaw to understand and communicate a shifting Native American identity.”—Todd Stewart, associate professor of art, technology, and culture at the University of Oklahoma

“Poolaw’s photographs, and Smith’s narration of where they fit in the Kiowa story, impart a welcome perspective on Kiowa history and culture. Smith powerfully illustrates how, when viewed through the eyes of Poolaw, Kiowa people—like other Americans—are actively negotiating present and future identities in a rapidly globalizing world.”—Luke Eric Lassiter, author of The Power of Kiowa Song

"Horace Poolaw: Photographer of American Indian Identity is a fascinating profile of the life and times of a photographer whose work has been largely overlooked by mainstream art and photographic historians."—Marilyn Gates, New York Journal of Books

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations    
Foreword by Linda Poolaw    
1. Homeland    
2. Family    
3. History and Pageantry    
4. Warbonnets    
5. Postcards    
6. Art    


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