According to Native American teachings, the Red Road is a positive path that guides its followers away from addiction, vices and violence. It is from this learning that photographer Carlotta Cardana and writer Danielle SeeWalker’s collaborative series The Red Road Project got its name. Over the past few years, the duo have travelled across the US in order to meet and photograph the country’s Native American population.
Thinking back to the series’ beginnings, Carlotta recalls The Red Road Project’s starting point as being her newly found friendship with Danielle 20 years ago and the conversations that ensued. “I kept seeing a disparity between what Danielle was telling me about her family and the way Native Americans are usually portrayed in the media,” the photographer says. “But I was also motivated by the preconceptions I had about the culture, which come from centuries of misrepresentation and perpetuated stereotypes.” Driven by a desire to represent these communities in their local contexts, the two artists spent time with people from all walks of life, listening to their stories and talking to them about their everyday experiences.
“We started off in North Dakota,” Carlotta explains. “Specifically in Standing Rock because that is where Danielle is from and where her family lives. We started talking to her relatives, collecting their stories and photographing them. We also went a local powwow that we knew would be a good source of meeting people.” Carlotta and Danielle were introduced to families at every stop who were happy to share their experiences and memories with them. This organic development is mirrored in the The Red Road Project’s visual coherence. Despite the vast scope of geographical locations depicted in the series, individual images speak to one another through muted colour palettes, serene settings and clean compositions.
Their photographs depict calm and assertive individuals with a strong sense of belonging to their land. Native Americans may be one of the USA’s most marginalised communities, yet The Red Road Project offers a restorative representation of a defiant people affirming their presence and claiming their voice. “My portraits are usually the result of a collaborative process with the person I’m photographing. I let them choose how and where to be photographed because I want them to be in control of the narrative as much as possible. The landscapes on the other hand are very personal: they’re an emotional response to what I’m experiencing in that specific moment.”
In a time when racist prejudices that legitimise white supremacy can be traced all the way to the White House, Carlotta and Danielle’s The Red Road Project feels all the more urgent. “We are talking about a specific culture and the consequences of colonisation and cultural genocide but we are also trying to highlight the differences that one can find between cultures, traditions and customs which are enriching and inspiring. We should not be afraid of what we don’t know or what looks different: despite our own personal journeys and backgrounds, we all have the same needs of being loved, feeling connected, cherished and respected.”