The photography exhibition "Utah Tribes," at the Bingham Gallery (1074 E. 2100 South), is so rich in American Indian pictorial history, visitors to the show — especially those in town for the 2002 Winter Olympic Games — will be fascinated as well as educated.
On display through March, the exhibit encompasses imagery from the Uinta Mountains, along the Wasatch Front to the Kaibab Plateau in southern Utah. Tribes from the Virgin River drainage area, northern Arizona and eastern Nevada are depicted in lunette-shaped albumen prints that document the scenes with raw artistry.
Originally part of a private collection in Washington, D.C., the 118 prints were discovered by a Salt Lake art dealer in 1999. Few of the works have been published except in original government reports and documents.
The images in "Utah Tribes," taken by Jack Hillers, a retired sergeant from the Civil War, were recorded using a wet-plate process when Hillers was the official photographer of the John Wesley Powell expedition of the Colorado River Gorge and the Grand Canyon.
Nelson Wadsworth, noted Utah photography expert and curator for the show, details in the exhibit's catalog how the early Kaibab Paiute of Utah were among the last of the American Indians to come into sustained contact with white culture.
According to Wadsworth, one of the controversial aspects of the photographs is that Powell evidently dressed the Paiutes in buckskins and feathered headdresses that he had collected from other tribes. Through Powell's instructions, the tribe members were dressed in these items of clothing and stiffly posed for Hillers' camera in an attempt to make them look more romantic and grand for the U.S. Congress who might, if sufficiently impressed, give more funding for Powell's further explorations.
Included in the show are pictures of tribes known as U-In-Tats, U-Ai-Nu-Ints, Mo-A-Pa-Ri-Ats, Kai-Vav-Its, Nu-A-Gun-Tits, Na-Va-Jos and Shi-Ni-Mos. Also included in the exhibit are original images from the ruins of the cliffs of Glen Canyon and Oraibi.
"Utah Tribes" is sponsored by the Thunderbird Foundation for the Arts, a nonprofit organization based in Mt. Carmel, Utah, and located in the studio of the American modernist/western painter Maynard Dixon. The foundation produces arts events as part of its mission to maintain and preserve the Dixon property.
Bingham Gallery is open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and Mondays by appointment only. For more information, call the gallery at 832-9220.