Southwest Photography – A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman

A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman
A Tewa Bowman, by W. Allen Cushman

Here is a circa 1920 image, entitled “A Tewa Bowman” by W. Allen Cushman, a noted photographer based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In keeping with the Edward Curtis tradition of tarting up his models with inauthentic costume bits to make a “better” photograph, Mr. Cushman put a plains Indian headdress on a southwest tribe member. And while the Tewas may have run around in loincloths on occasion (ceremonies or religious rituals), like their neighbors the Navajo and Hopi, they tended to wear shirts and leggings – the sun can be brutal when it’s out, and the cold can be equally so in wintertime – New Mexico is at similar altitude to parts of Colorado, so they get snow at higher elevations.

The image serves as a historic landmark in understanding the evolution of white man’s attitude toward native Americans. For the first several centuries of contact, the primary attitude ranged from indifference to hostility to downright genocide. By the beginnings of the 20th century, a new romanticized view of the ‘noble savage’ was taking hold, along with the growing realization that native peoples were truly dying out and vanishing altogether. In addition to the general romanticization, there is an obvious homoerotic undertone to the image. Note the smooth skin and the taut physique of the model. It’s a form of sublty emasculating the subject, making him at a time both sexually charged and non-threatening. All you’d have to do to turn this into an F. Holland Day photo would be to swap the feather headdress for a turban, and substitute an African model, and bingo.

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