The Photography of Sara Wiles

The Arapaho Project is proud to show the work of Sara Wiles, photographer of Lander, Wyoming . Her work displays members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who live on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming . The photographers are important in breaking down the stereotypes of Native American people as the stoic and noble disappearing race. They further reject the typical images of life on the reservation.

See the work of Sara Wiles (must have Flash Player 5.0+)

The photographs seen here were taken between 1975 and 2003, and depict members of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who live on the Wind Reservation in Wyoming . All of them, with the exception of the one taken at the site of the Sand Creek Massacre in Kiowa County , Colorado , were taken on or near the Wind River Reservation. The purpose of these photographs is to show life on the Wind River Reservation as rarely seen by outsiders. Outsiders see life on the Reservation (indeed, any reservation) as a series of sadnesses punctuated by occasional dances or ceremonies. This is both reflected in and a result of the way media portray life on reservations. Common representations of Native Americans tend to fall into two categorical extremes: 1) the poor-victim image of hopelessness, poverty and alcoholism, and 2) the colorful beads and feathers images of ceremonials and powwows. Both images are valid in their historical and cultural contexts, but by themselves are superficial. I hope to show my friends and neighbors in the way they see themselves: as complex and dignified human beings living in a functioning (if difficult) cultural, economic and political environment. Theirs is a society in which elders are respected for their knowledge of the Arapaho Way as well as for their slow passage to “the other side”. It is a society in which the old ways, the good ways, are still alive in the social and economic contexts of large extended families. It is a society in which, despite years of pressure from outside forces, communities are still held together by traditions that transcend individuals and families - traditions that help to preserve the integrity of a tribal society in a capitalistic world. It is a society in which it is still possible to live ni'iihi' - in a good way.

Sara Wiles has been a resident of Lander, Wyoming since 1973. During that time, she has worked on the Wind River Reservation as a social worker, consultant for Arapaho language and culture projects, and photographer. Born and raised in Ripley County , Indiana , Sara received two degrees (B.A. and M.A.) in anthropology from Indiana University .An exhibit of her photographs of Northern Arapaho people entitled Ni'iihi': In a Good Way was mounted in 1997 by the Buffalo Bill Historical Center in Cody, with the additional sponsorship of the Wyoming Council for the Humanities, and has been touring the country since 1998. Wiles' work has also appeared in many exhibits and juried art and photography shows throughout the U.S. and Europe. Her photos have also been chosen for permanent exhibits at the Buffalo Bill Historical Center and the Eiteljorg Museum in Indianapolis. In 2002, her work was included in the Smithsonian Handbook of North American Indians and the UCLA Native North American Almanac. In 2000, she was awarded the Wyoming Governor's Art Award for contribution to the arts. Most recently, her images were selected to be part of a web exhibit called Only Skin Deep: Changing Visions of the American Self sponsored by the International Center for Photography in New York City. This is an extensive look at how contemporary artists and photographers use photographic imagery to explore issues of American cultural identity in their work. She is currently working on a book of photographs of Northern Arapaho people for the University of Oklahoma Press.