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Jan. 26-April 2, 2017


An exhibition of photography by Will Wilson (U.S., Navajo; b. 1969) extends the body of portraiture of Native Americans in Oklahoma, while shifting preconceptions about the historical narrative within which the Native community is often presented. The title refers to both the use of photography as a medium and the synthesis of Edward S. Curtis’s original work into the construction of a body of photography that extends and empowers Native representation from the historic into the present. This exhibition is an extension of Wilson’s ongoing Critical Indigenous Photography Exchange, which began in 2012.

PHOTO/SYNTHESIS is supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Wilson, working with curator heather ahtone, photographically responds to Curtis’s portraits made in 1927 by photographing descendants of the same communities. Through collaboration with the tribal communities being represented, the project rejects the premise of the “vanishing” Indian. These additional images defy the measure of “authenticity” employed by Curtis who, in 1930, wrote that Oklahoma’s tribal people “have continued to advance, amalgamate, and become a part of the body politic… a striking forecast of the ultimate solution of what is now regarded as the Indian problem.” Will Wilson is directly countering the historicizing effect of Curtis’s images by using the anachronistic photography process of tintypes to document contemporary Indigenous people. Through the new photographs, the exhibition presents the “family portraits” side-by-side to create a family album of the communities identified by Curtis as “suitably” American Indian.

Participating tribal communities include: Cheyenne & Arapaho Tribes, Comanche Nation, Osage Nation, Otoe-Missouria Tribe, Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, and Wichita and Affiliated Tribes.

Beyond the descendants’ photographs, other portraits of Oklahoma’s Native American community taken in summer 2016 during Wilson’s residency will be included. Defying Curtis’s external measurement of cultural vitality, selected portraits of Oklahoma’s tribal community are incorporated into the gallery to create a visual and metaphorical presence of a broader community. To further enhance the presence of the Native community within the gallery, Wilson made video recordings of some of the leaders speaking to the contemporary issues they face. These first-person accounts will be provided within the gallery through the augmented reality software, Layar. Wilson’s Talking Tintypes will be the first use of this software in a museum and with his photography.

View the press release for this exhibition here.

A limited run catalogue is offered in conjunction with this exhibition. To view a preview of this catalogue, click here. For purchasing options, click here or contact Jin Garton at or (405) 325-5017.


Will Wilson (U.S., Navajo; b. 1969)
Casey Camp-Horinek, Citizen of Ponca Tribe of Oklahoma, “Zhuthi”, Tribal Council Woman, Leader of Ponca Scalp Dance Society, Sundancer, Delegate to UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Matriarch of wonderful family (grandmother, companion, mother, sister), Defender of Mother Earth (2016)
Archival pigment print from wet plate collodion scan, 8 x 10




Related Programming


Opening Reception
Thursday, Jan. 26
6 p.m.: Members Preview
Nancy Johnston Records Gallery

Museum members are invited to preview the exhibition before it officially opens to the public and enjoy wine and heavy hors d’oeuvres from Benvenuti’s Ristorante.

7 p.m.: Public Opening Lecture
Mary Eddy and Fred Jones Auditorium

Photographer Will Wilson will speak about his Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange project and the process of completing PHOTO/SYNTHESIS.

8 p.m.: Public Opening Reception
Sandy Bell Gallery

Following the lecture, please join us for a public reception with light refreshments, cash bar, and live music.

Gallery Talk
1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7
Nancy Johnston Records Gallery

Join heather ahtone, the James T. Bialac Associate Curator of Native American and Non-Western Art, as she leads a walking tour through PHOTO/SYNTHESIS. Read the press release here.

exchange: an Un-Symposium
2–4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11
Sandy Bell Gallery

Engage in an inclusive discussion about artmaking and identity with contemporary artists Will Wilson and Jeffrey Gibson, curators heather ahtone and Jennifer Scanlan, and several community leaders. This program takes as its starting point two current exhibitions: Will Wilson’s PHOTO/SYNTHESIS at the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art and Jeffrey Gibson’s SPEAK TO ME at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, and explores topics central to both. Read the press release here, and view the event flier here.


This exhibition is made possible by these generous supporters:





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