John Willis received his MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1986. Willis is the Professor of Photography at Marlboro College and co-founder of The In-Sight Photography Project offering courses to southern Vermont area youth regardless of their ability to pay. He also co-founded In-Sight’ Exposures Cross Cultural Youth Arts Program, bringing youth together from a wide variety of backgrounds to share photography lessons and life stories. Today we share his series titled, Views from the Reservation.
Views from the Reservation
As an outsider, I do not presume to be able to do more than scratch the surface or to comprehend the realities of the Lakota people in the most finite way. And I am very thankful for the other voices in this book—from Kent Nerburn to the Lakota people—who provide additional views of this special culture and place. They have taught me much and nothing more important than the understanding that all things are related and require our humble respect.
When thinking of the Pine Ridge Reservation, what do people imagine? What are the preconceived notions that outsiders carry about the place, the people, the culture, and their way of life? Pine Ridge is the Oglala Lakota Tribe’s home, a territory that once covered an area from Minnesota west to the sacred Black Hills (Paha Sapa) of southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Today, the reservation has been reduced to approximately fifty by 100 miles. Both outsiders and native peoples know of Hollywood’s representation of traditional American Indian culture. So often it has been based on the Lakota and other indigenous tribes of the Great Plains and In- terior West. Most of us have heard of the problems with alcoholism, poverty, and gangs on the reservations, of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, and the occupation by the American Indian Movement and its supporters of Wounded Knee in 1973. But how much do most of us really know?
I have come to know my Lakota friends as family. This book is intended to be for them and for all Lakota people as a wopila, a gift back for all they have given me through who they are and their willingness to be so welcoming. I feel deeply indebted to them for reminding me what is truly important in life. May life become easier for them while they are able to hold on to their culture, dignity, and pride.
Willis is a recipient of a 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. His work is included in numerous permanent collections including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, The Bibliotheque Nationale de France, The George Eastman House Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and, The National Museum of Native Americans. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including solo exhibitions at: The Stark Gallery in NYC, Blue Sky Gallery in Portland Oregon, Photographic Resource Center, Boston MA, and the Oglala Lakota College. John’s collaborative book project with photographer Tom Young, “Recycled Realities” was co-published by the Center of American Places and Columbia College in 2005. Willis’ second book Views From The Reservation was also published by the Center for American Places and Columbia College in 2010.
To view more of John’s work please visit his website.