For more than five decades of the twentieth century, one of the first American Indian professional photographers gave an insider’s view of his Oklahoma community—a community rooted in its traditional culture while also thoroughly modern and quintessentially American
Horace Poolaw (Kiowa, 1906–84) was born during a time of great change for his American Indian people as they balanced age-old traditions with the influences of mainstream America. A rare American Indian photographer who documented Indian subjects, Poolaw began making a visual history in the mid-1920s and continued for the next fifty years. When he sold his photos, he often stamped the reverse: “A Poolaw Photo, Pictures by an Indian, Horace M. Poolaw, Anadarko, Okla.” Not simply by “an Indian,” but by a Kiowa man strongly rooted in his multi-tribal community, Poolaw’s work celebrates his subjects’ place in American life and preserves an insider’s perspective on a world few outsiders are familiar with—the Native America of the southern plains during the mid-twentieth century.
For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw is based on the Poolaw Photography Project, a research initiative established by Poolaw’s daughter Linda in 1989 at Stanford University and carried on by Native scholars Nancy Marie Mithlo (Chiricahua Apache) and Tom Jones (Ho-Chunk) of the University of Wisconsin–Madison.