Edward Edmo, Sr., believes that his uncle Jack Edmo's fondness for having his photograph taken and for presenting his family at public gatherings was unique and not shared by Jack's other brothers. Edward's father, Tom Edmo, in particular was too occupied as chief of the Fort Hall Reservation police force and "too serious" to be concerned with being photographed.
To his nephew, the photo of Jack Edmo and his family represents a fun-loving "sporting" person, a man with an extroverted personality, an atypically social member of a large and active family. Yet the same image has been perceived by Anglo viewers as a generic portrait of a "typical" Indian family.
In the Jack Edmo family photos we also see the subject's control of the imagery. This included the frequency with which photographs were taken and the selection of clothing worn.
This photo is one of the most popular images of the Edmo family. It was used by the National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA) in Washington D.C. in its 1979 exhibit and exhibit catalog entitled, "The American Image: Photographs from the Archives of the United States, 1860-1960." In the 1990s the photo was displayed on the wall at the NARA in an area where all researchers must be processed to have access to the building. (Below right)
Jack is wearing moccasins with American Flag beaded design; breechcloth and vest with cut-glass beads and metal rivets, which he may have designed himself; quilled armbands; and traditional hairpipe and breastplate choker. Lizzie's and Bessie's dresses are cloth in a traditional cut. Helen's velveteen dress is decorated with cowrie shells, and she wears a women's style hairpipe necklace.
We cannot know the extent to which the glass plates and photographs that remain are representative of Wrensted's work or have been selected and filtered by Anglos. That the majority of images emphasize Indian elements of clothing - blankets, beadwork, feathers - leads us to suspect the influence of the Plains Indian stereotype, which had become established by the turn of the 20th century.
Wrensted's work also portrays some Shoshone-Bannock wearing non-stereotypical clothes. Her photographs include men in cowboy outfits and the three-piece suits of prominent ranchers, and women in cotton dresses.
The Viewer's Influence
Misinterpretation of the photo by the viewer occurs because of a lack of information and context. Without knowledge of its subject, a photograph can perpetuate stereotypes.
In each case, the image was not presented as the portrait of a specific Indian dressed for a known occasion, but as an icon of the "noble savage," a frequent representation in popular advertising. (see photos above and below) It was reproduced in these examples without indication of the photographer, tribe or individual - all of which are identified for the first time in this project.
It was also made into a large mural for an archival conservation exhibit outside the Archive's main reading room, where it was on display thorughout much of the 1990s. (Below Right)
A Plains Indian dance, the Grass Dance was a celebration of early spring. It was performed to insure plentiful food, such as salmon, berries and grasses, throughout the coming year. A variation of the dance is still performed today, usually as a part a powwow.
The Photographer's Influence
When photographing Native Americans, the photographer sometimes added items to signal the subject's Indianness, such as pipe bags or blankets. Wrensted was not the only photographer to use the blanket as an Indian studio prop. In nineteenth-century terminology, "blanket Indian" meant an Indian with traditional values who refused to assimilate.
The blanket gained its association with Native Americans through the craft of weaving practiced by some tribes, notably the Navajo, and was one of the practical items of trade and ration goods from the earliest period of Indian-White contact. There is irony in an Anglo photographer using commercially purchased blankets to make subjects appear more "Indian."