Local photographer uses his lens to tell the story of Native Americans

Local News

A project 20 years in the making is moving into Phase 2. We learn how a local photographer is using his art to capture the history of the First Nation.

“I believe that our people are very beautiful. All people are very beautiful in the way they can express themselves. And all of them have a great history. Rich history. And where they come from and who they are to help create them today,” shared Allan Demaray, an MHA Tribal Member.

The Northern Plains Native Americans: A Modern Wet Plate Perspective is a 20-year long project by wet plate Photographer Shane Balkowitsch.

Initially, he only intended for a 10 photo series beginning with the first photo of his friend, the great-grandson of Chief Sitting Bull.

“I’m on plate 428 as of today. So every time I make a wet plate of a Native American the goal is to get the proper portrait for the historical society,” said Balkowitsch.

Balkowitsch’s goal is to photograph 1,000 Native Americans. People have come from all over the country to have their picture included in this project.

“I’ve had people come in from Florida, Washington state, California, Nevada, Utah. They’ve driven in or flown in to be part of my series. So I’ve had different tribes from all over the United States. So it’s an honor when a new tribe or someone from that I have not captured yet comes in and represents them,” said Balkowitsch.

One of his main goals is not to tell their story but to capture history with his lens.

“The truth of our nation of what we had to endure and overcome, how we’ve helped this nation become what it is, how we’ve helped the people become what they are by being who we are. And this is a great honor to be apart of these projects. Be part of history. But that’s just us sharing and being the history of people,” said Demaray.

“A photograph is a photograph and is very simple. And it tells a story. As long as on the back of it you turn it over and you know the date it was taken and who’s in the photograph. And do they have a Native American name? And what tribe they are from? And it has my name on there, that’s all you need for that history. But I’m not doing a narrative. I’m doing a visual,” said Balkowitsch.

Every 250 photos that Balkowitsch takes he’s using to share a picture book. He is currently planning to release Volume 2 sometime in 2021.

Photos in this collection have reached as far as India. Every photo will also be submitted to the North Dakota State Historical Society as a way to preserve history.

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