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The Public Faces of Sarah Winnemucca

Essay Excerpt

This study is based on the existent formal studio portraits of Sarah Winnemucca.[2] Formal portraits make purposeful statements of how the subject wanted to be known, and can be as revealing as a personal diary. These photographs, however, must be viewed as a group. Individually they cannot tell us much about the subject or patterns in her life, just as a page in a diary gives no holistic view. For any viable study of photographs there must be a critical number that allows us to form hypothesis and interpretation. That finite number, however, will vary with the subject. In this article I will examine these photographs "as artifacts of culture and the social process surrounding photography as an 'ethnographic' situation revealing of culture" (Ruby 1981:23). These portraits are thus not unrelated, but form a body of visual documents whose study reveals distinctive cultural and social patterns. (Scherer, 178) 

About the Author

Joanna Scherer is a Professor Emerita at the Smithsonian Institute. Her research interests are historical photography; Women and photography; North American Indian photography cultural anthropology, and visual anthropology. 

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