The Outsider and the Native Eye: The Photographs of Richard Throssel

Created by Valerie Daniels, May 2002

Introduction | The Vanishing Race | A Member of the Tribe | Professional Photographer | Resources

Introduction: Authenticity, Authority and Intention

Richard Throssel was born in Marengo, Washington in 1882.* He was of Canadian Cree, Scottish and English Heritage. In 1902, he moved to the Crow Reservation in Montana to join his brother, Harry, as a clerk in the Indian Service office. He was not on the reservation long before he bought his first camera, and joined the ranks of contemporary artists taking photographs of the Crow Indians. He was influenced by several of the artists he met on the reservation, such as painter Joseph Henry Sharp and photographer Edward S. Curtis. However, unlike these other artists, Throssel was adopted into the tribe in 1906. He remained on the reservation until 1911, and during this time he took over 1,000 photos of Crow Indian life, many of them in order to document the tribe he was now a part of, but also as part of his work with the Indian Service, and for use in commercial exhibitions. In 1911, he moved to Billings, Montana and opened up his own studio, the Throssel Photocraft Company. Throssel's unique insider/outsider status in the Crow tribe allows us to explore questions of authenticity, authority and intention that are relevant to all images of American Indians. This website examines Throssel's photographs in the light of these questions.

Self Portrait, ca. 1916
Richard Throssel, Self-portrait, ca. 1916
from Crow Indian Photographer, Peggy Albright

The Vanishing Race, looks at the question of authenticity. Scholars, such as Peggy Albright and Tamara Northern, have claimed that Throssel's Cree heritage and adopted membership in the Crow tribe make his photos an authentic expression of his culture. This notion is troubled by the fact that Throssel's techniques, aesthetics and themes were influenced by artists, such as Sharp and Curtis, who were invested in the myth of the Vanishing Race. Where is the line drawn between authenticity and romanticism?

A Member of the Tribe examines the question of authority. The fact remains that Throssel was able to photograph scenes and ceremonies that were inaccessible to those photographers outside of the tribe. Does insider status grant a greater cultural authority? How does the relationship between photographer and subject influence the image that is produced? This section will explore these questions, as well as look at some of Throssel's own innovations in photography.

Professional Photographer will look at the questions of intention. Are all photographs art? If we look at Throssel's "Photographs of Diseased Indians" taken for The Indian Service, or commercial work taken for the Throssel Photocraft Company as works of art can we understand anything about them, or do they need to be put into a cultural context?

Throughout the site, links will be in green. Images with a green border can be clicked on to view them at a higher resolution.

* Biographical Information from Peggy Albright, Crow Indian Photographer, Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1997.

The Vanishing Race

Introduction | The Vanishing Race | A Member of the Tribe | Professional Photographer | Resources