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‘Windows into time’: Exhibit photos depict mid-19th century Alaska Natives

Feb 4, 2019

Eleanor Hadden talks to exhibit curator Marc Shaffer about the Eadweard Muybridge photos Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, on display at Alaska Native Heritage Center. (Photo by Tripp J Crouse)

An exhibition will showcase photos believed to be the first photos of Southeast Alaska and the Tlingit people.

“Muybridge in Alaska” collects a number of photographs originally taken in 1868,  from a travel expedition taken by Eadweard Muybridge.

The show’s curator Marc Shaffer attended the debut of the show at the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage.

“They have a lot of historical value and for Tlingit people in particular, obviously a lot of cultural value,” Shaffer said.

The photographs include depictions of Fort Tongass, Fort Wrangell and Sitka. Shaffer says the exhibit grew out of a documentary that he’s working on about Muybridge.

“They're original so they were produced in 1868-1869,” Shaffer said. “They're also windows into a time that's very important to the history of this state and the history of Native people.”

A woman views an Eadweard Muybridge photo through a twinscope Saturday, Jan. 26, 2018, at Alaska Native Heritage Center. (Photo by Tripp Crouse)

The photos were taken with a single camera with two lenses. The side-by-side images are meant to be viewed with a device that helps blend the two images into one – creating almost a 3-D image.

“These pictures invite visitors to reflect on what was going on then, to think maybe about the tensions that existed between Native peoples and non-Native peoples as they came together. The United States brought in military forces, that's how it governed the region, there were a fair amount of conflict between these peoples, bloody conflict.

That conflict was top of mind for Eleanor Hadden, who sat on a panel discussion about the photos.

“Don’t forget this part of history. This was a very hard time for our people, that transition time. And so when I see that I also see some of that,” she said. “What trauma did they have to go through to stand there and get those pictures taken.”

The exhibit will be on display at the Heritage Center through March, before it moves to Haines and later Sitka.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version misstated when the photos were taken. This story has been updated.