As the first photographer welcomed by the Nez Perce tribe in 100 years, Hunter Barnes publishes his story
American documentary photographer Hunter Barnes looks back on his time living with the Nez Perce tribe in Lapwai, Idaho from 2004-2008.
- Jyni Ong
- 12 October 2020
In 2004, documentary photographer Hunter Barnes embarked on a trip of a lifetime. Having trained in photochemistry and traditional photographic techniques, the American born and raised artist began a nomadic life on the road from a young age. Shooting exclusively on film, Hunter’s striking black and white works are notable for their insight into underrepresented American communities. His first project saw him venture from New York to Wallowa County in Oregon, a place which would later become his home. He met a girl who led him to a hidden rural town in the mountains, a place he would go on to document with his candid lens, capturing one of the dying communities of the Old West.
After this escapade documenting the project known as Redneck Round-Up, Hunter went on to work on the project that we are here to talk about today. For four years he lived with the Nez Perce tribe in Lapwai, Idaho, and remembers those enlightening years in a new book, The People recently published by Reel Art Press. “I was introduced to my new first at the Tamkaliks Powwow in 2004,” he tells us of the first time he went to the reservation. “I didn’t know much about the tribe,” he continues. “To me, I met a group of friends I was happy to spend time with and felt their life deserved to be documented.”
With time, the revered documentary photographer was shown “a new way to walk and breathe”. Living with the indigenous community introduced him to an ancient wisdom that was unbeknown to him previously and in the powerful series Hunter captures their traditions and day-to-day lives. Hunter is the first photographer to be invited into the tribe’s inner circle for over a hundred years. The photographer Edward S Curtis was also lucky enough to photograph the community in the early 1900s and in turn, The People offers a rare insight into the Nimiipuu people.
Hunter was unaware of how much time had passed since Edward’s series. He says on the matter, “I was honoured to be accepted into their life and shown a way that left such an impact on me.” In turn, the series was made in collaboration with the community and the subjects of the work. He wanted to wait until the right time to share the images with the world, the reason why it’s taken so long for Hunter to publish the work. The photographer admits, “if this would have come out any sooner, many of the lessons I learned would have been missed, images would have remained unseen.”
With this in mind, many aspects of the series were only discovered years later from the original documentation. It took time for Hunter to fully grasp the philosophies and teachings of the Nimiipuu people and wanted the book to reflect that. In the photographer’s mind, the book is being released at the right time, despite the fact it’s nearly two decades since he lived with the community.
Hunter remembers those in the black and white portraits, the kindness they showed him during a period of his life where he learned so much. “I hope people are able to see a glimpse into the life of a tribe they may otherwise not get to see in person,” he adds on the new publication. “They allowed me into their life and I will forever be grateful for the time we shared. The Nimiipuu taught me to listen from within.”
GalleryHunter Barnes: The People (Copyright © Hunter Barnes / Reel Art Press 2020)
Hunter Barnes: The People, Cindy Wapato (Copyright © Hunter Barnes / Reel Art Press 2020)
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.