Wendy Red Star, who hails from Montana’s Crow Tribe and is one of those featured in the show, has a similarly complex response to Curtis’s legacy. “I think it’s been blown a little bit out of proportion and because I come from an art background, I understand what he was doing as a photographer, in what was the way you would photograph people at the time,” she says. For Red Star, the archive’s value lies more in the other media Curtis left behind, including wax-cylinder recordings of Crow honor songs. “I might not agree with how it’s packaged and presented, but the fact that I can hear their voices is really important to me,” she says. “There are death songs for when they’re in a war party and they know they’re going to die—and some of those were recorded, so that was really beautiful.”
For Red Star, though, Curtis’s legacy is not without its problems. “The Crows were a matriarchal society, but all of the large portrait photos are of Crow men, no women. And in the book there were some photos of women, but not many. So I made sure that for this exhibition all my work would focus on women.” In one work in the show, Red Star presents a grid of facsimile copies of Curtis’s prints, with the male figures cut out to “give them a rest,” as she says.