Artist's Statement on
American Indians
June 2009

by Maggie Steber

© Cara Buckley

I have been photographing American Indians for more than 20 years. They are magical and frustrating subjects. It requires time to win the trust of Indians because they have been abused for as long as Europeans have been in America.

Many non-Indian people, both Americans and foreign visitors, believe Indians don't exist any longer and their cultures are found only in museums. Or, they think Indians still live in tepees and wear feathers. People love to hold on to old images of how Native people used to live because it is romantic and heroic. Their story is dramatic, one of a warrior culture, apartheid, genocide and survival.

A photographer has to try to break through the visual trappings that the public, especially photo editors and magazines, expect to see. But the modern life of Indians doesn't produce the images people are interested in seeing. I think Americans search for heroic figures and the Indian provides that, even though we took his land and way of life. People prefer images of the exotic aspects of life or the stereotypes of the down-and-out Indians isolated on the land, living in poverty. Our job is to break the stereotypes and give all peoples a venue for their voice.

Some of these images show contemporary Native Americans practicing their old traditions that live on today--these pictures fit into the romantic image non-Indians have of Natives. This is one of the most perplexing aspects of photographing Natives because I want to show they still practice the traditions but I do not want to participate in a time warp. I hope to make a statement that celebrates the tradition as well as noting its practice today.

© Maggie Steber

Maggie Steber is a renowned documentary photographer who has worked worldwide for The National Geographic, LIFE, The New Yorker, Smithsonian, People, Merian Magazine (Germany), The Times Magazine (London), Newsweek, Time and Sports Illustrated. Her awards include the Ernst Haas Grant from The Workshops, the World Press Foundation Award, the Leica Medal of Excellence, the Overseas Press Club, the Picture of the Year awards and the Alicia Patterson Grant, and the Medal of Honor for Contribution to Journalism from the University of Missouri. In 2007, Maggie received a grant from the Knight Foundation to create a new American newspaper and Web site through the new Knight Center for International Media at the University of Miami. Her first book, "Dancing on Fire: Photographs From Haiti," was published in 1991. She was a contract photographer for Newsweek magazine for four years, photo editor for The Associated Press in New York, and assistant managing editor of photography and features at The Miami Herald. Maggie is a Miami-based freelance photojournalist who also advises newspapers worldwide on the use of photography and graphic design.

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