Indian Dancers Cannot Wear Sun Glasses

Last year I submitted this image to a local photography club in the hopes that it would be selected for inclusion in a state wide photography contest.

 

The photo was immediately rejected by my fellow photographers. I still consider myself a hobbyist and a long way from a professional so I asked “why”. I was wondering if there was a problem with focus, exposure, white balance, composition etc. I was not quite prepared for the answer I received.

“I don’t like the sun glasses”

“If the dancer was not wearing sun glasses it would be perfect”

“The sun glasses are confusing.”

“The sun glasses are out of place”

I was pretty stunned but in hindsight I should not have been all that surprised. For generations Americans have been fed a strange static view of Native culture. Media and the education system has created and propagated a horse, leather, and feathers view of Indian people. Americans prefer their Indians as traditional as possible. This is probably the root of the rule that I and this young dancer violated.

Indian dancers cannot wear sun glasses.

If I had been more brave and less stunned I should have asked “why can’t Indian dancers wear sun glasses?”

Can cowboys wear baseball caps? Sure cowboys can wear whatever they want. No one expects or more to the point demands that cowboys wear only clothing or carry equipment from the 1800’s. The very idea is absurd on all levels. Unlike cowboys Indians are not allowed to violate the anachronistic popular conception that so many people hold. A cowboy is a cowboy even when wearing a baseball cap, yet a Native person that does not appear to have stepped out of an Edward S. Curtis image is deemed inauthentic to many observers.

I had enough wits about me to explain that wearing reflective sun glasses is normal, many dancers wear them but my words and even photographic evidence was not enough to sway deeply held views. Native culture is not canned or pickled for long shelf life. Healthy cultures continue to grow, change, and adapt to time, technology and other cultures. Only dead cultures never change.

In a real way I failed that evening.

Photography can be beautiful sunsets, majestic vistas, powerful or cute and cuddly animals, glamor shots, cute kids, and vacation memories. Photography can also shake the world, change perception, move people to action, and fundamentally change people, I am not saying the image I captured will cause a paradigm shift but I did want to challenge the viewers. I wanted them to think differently about Native people. I was shocked by how challenging the simple image above was for a good number of the people in the room.

This is my second shot at making the change.

 

Bonus content, just in case my readers still think the young dancer above is an anomaly. I bring you

Dancers in Sun Glasses!

 

 

 

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Marital Strife out of No where!

Last night I had a real life,” Well it’s Jake from State Farm” moment…

 

Let me explain, At the end of the month I have planned a photography trip to Yellowstone and the Grand Teton National Parks. I have been to Yellowstone twice before. Once when I was 8 and again about, wow was that 20 years ago? Yea I guess it was with Jonette. We both had a great time and I am really looking forward to the trip. In preparation I am looking for geotagged photography guides and I found 2 books and decided to go to the library and see if they could order them for me.

Ok now that is out of my system

They are ordering one of the photoguides, now I have to pray to make sure I get them before I leave for my trip. I pick up another interesting Yellowstone guidebook and a grilling cookbook go to the self-check out scan the books and grab my receipt. We get into the car and head home.

 

Jonette picks up the guidebook and starts flipping through it. As I am leaving the parking lot she says “Did you check out 3 books? I only saw you check out two?” I tell her I only have 2 books. By this time alarm bells are going off, how did the scanner pick up 3 books, boy I do hope that whoever checked out book #3 returns it because it is on my account. Jonette then reads the checkout receipt.

The scan is bad but the circled book is titled “Divorce after 50: your guide to uni” The rest is cut off. By this time the alarms have reached “Klingons off the starboard bow captain!” levels of urgency. “Did you check this book out? I only saw you check out 2 books not 3.” She hands it to me and I take a quick look, Well I checked out the Yellowstone one but not the divorce and the 3rd book is also different. Jonette takes it back from me and begins checking it out again. “Well at least I have 8 years to get all your money before you take off.” She quips. “I didn’t check that book out! And now I have to call the library to figure out what is going on.” thinking that this is just one more stupid thing on my plate.

 

Jonette then lets me off the hook. “The date on this receipt is Oct, 4, 2013 must be someone else’s.” She then grabbed the grilling book and my receipt falls out of it.

 

I am not the only one to use the library receipt as a bookmark.

 

Yikes… just Yikes. Jonette will mess with me for years over this.

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Peep cake, Peep Cake!, PEEP CAKE!

Making a better Peep!

On the first Saturday of every month my friends and coworkers gather for a party. The party is called 1st Saturday. We all bring food, and we all throw down some serious Noms, and play a game or two. Cards Against Humanity is in really heavy rotation right now. Jonette is always in a tizzy about what are we bringing to 1st Saturday. We can’t bring something we have brought sometime in the distant past. Well about 2 weeks ago she was flipping through a Food Network magazine and found a recipe for a “Peep Cake”

 

No it is not a cake made of Peeps; thank whatever gods you believe in for that. It is a cake with nuclear yellow icing and sugar. Jonette selected lemon supreme as her cake flavor and would make her own frosting. The yellow sugar was another matter that required several days to overcome.

We could find all kinds of sugar, big sugar crystals, and small granulated sugar crystals; the problem was that we could not find the classic radioactive yellow classic Peep color. All the white sugar we found was granulated or powdered. Natural sugar in the larger crystals we were looking for were darker in color. Jonette would use corn starch and food coloring and the result was always a dark gold color, which was not acceptable. I kept telling her to call a cake place and ask for yellow sanding sugar. Nope purchasing yellow sugar was not an option yet.

By Thursday night I grew tired of the endless failed experiments and the resulting crystalline detritus that had the kitchen looking a bit like a forgotten Lawrence of Arabia set. Even the cats were getting coated with sugar. If this had been summer time the ants would have been swarming. So I found a local cake supply place and told her “Try here!” I get home from work on Friday and surprise we had yellow sanding sugar.

Cake assembly was relatively quick and painless. The frosting however was not stiff enough and it was hard to sculpt into that classic Peep shape. I was lassoed into help with the final production stages; I grabbed a spatula and after some work did create a peepish shape. After cleaning the table, a few place mats, ceiling, walls, carving utensils, and cats the Peep cake was complete.

 

The Peep Cake was a huge hit at the party and after eating some of it, a party goer suggested that we cut a big gash in the head so it looked like Pac Man! Once the Pac Man modifications were complete another party goer used tooth picks to create a Hannibal Lector theme. Jonette claims that she was not responsible for the last transformation but I know she did it or encouraged another to do so.

The final remains of the cake were brought into the CQG kitchen. I sent out a message saying that the sad but delicious remains of a peep cake were available. It is an odd thing when you bring sweets into work. The cake or item will slowly be consumed until there is one serving left. That last serving will slowly get smaller and smaller as people pick at it but do not want to be the one to take the last of it. I understand their thinking. I want the cake but I cannot handle being “that guy” or “that girl” that takes the last piece of cake or donut or whatever.

I bit the bullet and took final responsibility for the peep cake and ate the last mouthful just a few minutes ago.

 

If you want to make your own Peep Cake go here.

 

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchens/peep-cake-recipe.html

 

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You Ate What?

Earlier this year Jonette and I would carpool to go to work. She would drop me off at the light rail station in the morning and pick me up in the afternoon. She had taken the day off but still wanted to carpool. I got to work just fine but my return trip was very different. I disembarked from the train, located the car and sat down in the driver’s seat as normal. Jonette looked horrible, really sick, like ebola sick, as if she was going to turn into Monty Python’s parrot at any moment sick.

Me “What’s wrong?”

Jonette “I ate something bad and now I do not feel good.”

Me “What did you eat?”

Jonette “I’m not going to tell you.”

I put the car in gear and reverse out of the parking spot and head for the exit of the parking lot. Jonette suddenly starts scrambling around for something. She strikes gold in finding an empty Cheezit box on the back seat, the remains of a recent road trip. Clutching the box tightly in her hands she bends over and ralphs violently into the box. A sticky sweet smell of raw cake batter fills the car.

Me “You ate raw cake batter again didn’t you?”

Jonette between hurls, “Yes”.

Me “How much did you eat?”

Jonette “Not all of it” *spew*

Me “That is not what I asked, How much did you eat?”

Jonette “half” she whimpers as she blows yet more chunks into the Cheezit box.

I am now rolling down the windows to try and alleviate the yeasty cake batter smell but it is no use, Jonette continues to evacuate her stomach with alarming frequency and violence. By this time I am not sure who wanted out more, me or the cake batter. I pull over twice on the 12 mile trip home to let poor Jonette toss her cookies alongside the road.

Once home I carefully extracted the now somewhat soggy Cheezit box from her clutches and toss it into the trashcan. It appears that her upchucks have concluded and I put her down on the couch with a blanket, pillows and a big bowl. Over the next 4 hours I needed to dump the bowl twice as she slowly recovered.

I have never seen her more miserable as that evening and even though it has been many months since the incident she has yet to eat raw cake batter. I do hope this trend continues, for both our sakes.

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Traditional Dance

Traditional dancers are exactly what the name implies; they are old style dancers using old style materials in their outfit. Traditional dancer use their movement to tell stories of the hunt and combat.

Early on Sunday morning, 9AM is very early on a powwow weekend, there was a veterans dance special. Vets from WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan were asked to assemble and dance. Lakota’s, like all other Native nations, still highly honor their veterans and warriors. A small group of dancers dressed out and participated. The following is a pictorial representation of their story…

 

 

The dance begins, warriors bent over looking for evidence of their quarry. They move slowly, hunched over looking for the tracks or other signs of an enemy’s passage.

 

 

 

Tracks are found! The dancers are now more mobile still looking at the signs but moving towards their targets. It is time to chase something down.

 

 

 

 

Once the target is acquired the battle is engaged. The dancers range in a smaller area, body movements are exaggerated, dodging, weaving, and spinning to get the advantage over their foe.

 

 

 

 

The enemy is finally but inevitably finished off with a final blow or shot.

 

 

 

The dancers then celebrate their victory, their survival, to live another day!

 

 

 

 

There are other stories as well. Hunts and the rescue of a fallen warrior are also danced.

Many years ago I was dancing at Daniel’s Park Tall Bull Memorial Grounds just south of Denver. At the time there was a very large light post in the exact center of the dance arbor. There were 5 or so other dancers out there with me and we were given a sneakup song. We all started dancing in our own way; there was no communication between us. At some point near the end of the song we all decided that the light pole was our enemy and on the very last beat of the drum we all struck the pole with our dance sticks. As the song died out we stood there and looked at each other as smiles crept over our faces, we had all danced the same story. It remains one of those very strange synchronis, yes apparently I just made that word up and I like it so it will stay, moments in my life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Powwow Photography

Powwows are a public celebration of Native song, dance, food and culture that are open for anyone to enjoy. No one tribe can claim full ownership of the powwow but each nation has added their own style and flavor to the family friendly celebrations. Capturing the colors and movement of a powwow is as rewarding as it is challenging. Conditions at powwows can range from bright sunlit outdoor arbors to dark indoor gymnasiums. Both venues have unique challenges that a photographer needs to overcome.

Fees –

Photography is encouraged at powwows; however there may be a small photo and video fee that is requested by the powwow committee. This fee is almost never required of participants using cell phone and smaller digital point and shoot cameras. If you are using a DSLR camera with larger lenses it is best to ask about these fees at the dancer registration desk before shooting. You will be handed a photo/video pass that needs to be displayed prominently on your equipment. There are also some basic behavior rules that photographers should follow during their shoot.

10 Powwow Photography rules –

  1. Listen to the Master of Ceremonies the MC, he is there to not only inform and instruct he will have an endless supply of really bad jokes to throw out during the powwow.
  2. The MC will ask spectators to stand during the grand entry, invocation, flag song, and victory dance, please stand when requested to do so.
  3. Dancers in the dance circle are free game, shoot to your heart’s content. If dancers are not dancing and outside the circle please ask permission first.
  4. Do not interfere or chase the dancers, stay on the edge of the dance circle. A good rule of thumb is to go no further into the dance circle than the drum groups.
  5. There will be an arena director, if he asks anything of you or gives you directions please follow them. In the old days arena directors carried whips or sticks and would use them on dancers and spectators that were not following instructions.
  6. During the competitions there will be judges standing or moving around the outside of the dance circle, stay clear of them so they can do their job. You can identify them by clipboards and their serious looks.
  7. Please do not photograph any feather pickup ceremonies. When an eagle feather drops from a dance outfit; 4 veteran dancers will be asked to dance around the fallen feather and retrieve it from the ground. Once again listen to the MC he will let everyone know when this is happening.
  8. Flash or Speedlites, I must confess that this is a personal rule. Before I picked up a camera I was a traditional dancer and I developed an intense dislike of photographers using a speedlite. It was distracting to me, especially during contests.
  9. During intertribals if you ever feel the need to get out there and dance, go ahead and do so, that is what intertribals are for.
  10. Feel free to talk to the dancers, singers, spectators, and vendors interact with them when not behind the view finder.

     

It is not necessary to have large and expensive equipment. I have made some spectacular images using a point and shoot digital camera and even the camera on my cell phone. The disadvantage of a point and shoot digital is many seem to have a serious lag time between hitting the shutter button and actual shutter response. I have found that it is nearly impossible to get a good image of the fast moving fancy dancers. If you have a quick reacting point and shoot give it a try. Cell phones and DSLR cameras have much faster shutter response and are therefore easier to use.

 

I will follow up this post with more information regarding suggested equipment, and the more technical aspects of powwow photography in the near future.

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The Demon in the Spare Bedroom

Yesterday was interesting…

Some friends of mine in Pueblo Colorado are moving to Tennessee for health reasons and we wanted to give them one last visit before they left. They have two dogs and a 7 month old kitten. The dogs are fine but the people they will be staying with are allergic to cats. Wendy informed us that she was unable to locate a local no kill shelter that would take cats. Jonette and I know of a no kill shelter here in Denver and agreed to take the little tortie kitten with us Sunday afternoon. We both figured that we could at worst bring the kitten to the shelter but hoped that we could integrate the kitten into our home.

The kitten is fine with dogs. The kitten is fine with young children carrying her around all day. The kitten is also fine with people. I figured she would be ok in our home with a bit of time adjusting to Catzilla, Yoshi and o.OWafflesO.o.

I asked if they had a cat carrier and the answer was no but I was handed a cardboard apple box. I proceeded to punch holes in the box, please note, always create air holes in the box before the animal is in said box. After a short search the kitten was located and placed in the box. I was also given her litter box, a big container of litter, her food bowl and a couple toys.

As soon as the kitten was loaded in the car she erupted out of her container, Jonette got into the back seat with the kitten and we left for the hour and a half drive home. I had not gone more than 2 miles before the kitty crawled over my shoulder and into my lap where she started furiously licking my hand and arm. Jonette had me pull over and she got into the front seat to care for the kitten. The kitten moved over to Jonette’s lap where she proceeded to pant, lick and drool all over her for the entire trip home.

I had to stop at a gas station to get water for the kitty. She ignored the water and continued to drool furiously. I should have known that things were going to good. Jonette has the kitten in her arms and as soon as we open the door to our home…

Kitty instantly flies into a screaming, hissing, yowling, and growling feral rage. The other cats stood there with their eyes wide open. “What the hell is that!?!?!” Waffles evaporated and was not seen for an hour. Yoshi slunk around the house in combat cat mode for the next 15 minutes. Catzilla was “you are going to feed me right?” We got the little ball of rage into the spare bedroom with some gooshy food, water and her litter box. Jonette and I proceeded to pile pillows and blankets against the door. Demon kitten took post under a table in the spare bedroom and refused to touch the food, water, or her litter box.

I have introduced cats before but I have never seen a reaction so violent.

Jonette decided to spend the night with demon kitty. She went into the room and piled more blankets and pillows inside the door; I replaced the barricade on the outside and prayed for her safety. I woke up in the morning, checked on Jonette. She reported that the kitten spent the night curled up next to her growling and licking Jonette’s hand and arm. The kitten had still not eaten any food, drank any water or used her litter box. The kitten also refused to leave the bed.

Knowing that Jonette and the kitten were ok I jumped in the shower. Jonette showed up, bombed the oval office and headed back to the spare bedroom. I hear her scream “NO” followed by more feline screeching and yowling. I watch Yoshi dive under the bed so I jump from the shower and into the hallway. I see that Jonette has cornered the demon kitty on the stairs. Waffles is nowhere to be seen and Zilla is also on the stairs just looking at them both. I reach down and lightly scruff the kitten as Jonette runs to get a cat carrier. I force the kitten in the carrier and when Jonette tries to latch the cage, the kitten tries to maul her. I tell her to grab a glove and I will lock the cage.

I put the demon kitty back in the spare bedroom but I do not let that yowling ball of terror out of the carrier. This is not going to work. I have integrated scared cats but this little girl was batshit frightened. 2 of our cats were frightened, I think Catzilla is just not smart enough to be scared, he just wanted his food.

Demon kitty is no longer in the spare bedroom; the rescue place will find someone to properly socialize her. She is a young kitty so she will find a good home without the need for an old priest and a young priest.

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