People have been recording images of human experience for thousands of years in many different forms. Etched in stone, drawn on paper, painted on canvas, and with the birth of the camera, recorded on film. In the digital age, photographic images pervade our lives, but this was not always the case when images were harder to produce. Creating photographic prints required specialized knowledge, equipment and chemicals. Not everyone had these things. Now, almost everyone has a phone that can take photos, just click and share.
This evolution of media is what inspired the first time capsule activity. Cultural Center Director Leist explains, “I feel like I am always explaining what life was like before cell phones and modern technology to my kid. How there were paper maps instead of navigation apps. Photographic prints that you carefully selected from film negatives. Board and card games where you interacted with people in person. Lifeways change so rapidly. And that’s part of what we are trying to capture at the cultural center. A hundred years ago women hand pounded corn to make meal for bread. Since then there has been a variety of tools used to do the same job. The tools may have changed, but the intent is the same.”
Leist continues, “In the middle of a discussion about the use of technology, I recalled an old 1963 polaroid camera I had. It made me think how getting your portrait taken a hundred years ago was a big deal. Not everyone had cameras. Often you would have to travel to a bigger city or town and go to a photographic studio. People would dress up for the occasion. I thought it might be fun to have families come to the cultural center to have their portrait taken with the old camera. Some of the family portraits could be added to the time capsule.”
Photographic images reveal details about the past. Examining some of the historic images in the tribe’s collections, portraits are most often carefully composed. In some photos, people stand outside their home in everyday work clothes. These photographs were likely taken by a visiting documentary photographer. In other images, family members are in a studio dressed in their finest clothes with their hair and jewelry just as they want. A few images from the early twentieth century are portrait postcards. Photographs you could send to your family or friends in distant places through the mail. Many of these are humorous and lighthearted.
Photographic play an important role in our life. In our daily social world, they keep us up to date. Photographs also connect us to our past. They remind us of people, places, feelings, and stories. Old photographic prints connect us to a more distant past, family members we may have never met. While we may not know the details of their lives, we can feel a connection through their personal image. When the time capsule is dug up in a hundred years, we hope the images will offer the same glimpse into our life.
Leist adds, “The funny part to me is that the Polaroid was advanced technology at the time. It was my dad’s when he was a teenager. He wanted to learn photography, but he couldn’t have a darkroom and all the equipment, so he saved up to acquire one of the early instant film cameras. I had used it twenty years ago, and it was a novelty then.”
Please stop by the Shawnee Tribe Cultural Center from Wednesday May 22nd through Saturday May 25th from 10-4 to have your picture taken. Anyone may participate. If those times do not work, please call 918.544.6722.