- Thank to Guild Hall for hosting this event!
My name is Jeremy Dennis, I’m a digital photographer and visual artist from the Shinnecock Indian Reservation in Southampton, New York. I went to Stony Brook University for drawing and painting and in 2016 received an MFA from Pennsylvania State University.
This is an intaglio etching I did during my time in undergrad that influenced my current work. I found that printmaking was a great way to experiment with replicating the image while also having a very unique object like a drawing or painting – which led to my study of darkroom photography.
- I’ve always enjoyed portrait photography, especially during local Powwows in the New England area. At these events, many of the dancers and vendors are happy to have their portraits taken when approached respectfully; this is taken at the Shinnecock Powwow in 2015. The Powwows happen once a year for every tribal community, but I enjoyed this time of the year so much, I wanted to find a way to celebrate and share my culture throughout the year in a similar way.
- Taking art history classes, it’s inevitable to come across mythological and religious, which became my favorite subject matter.
What was missing was a visual art history of mythology and spirituality that originated out of my culture and people. This made me feel a strong desire to fill this gap.
This is a self-portrait I did at Pennsylvania State University.
- It all began with the gathering of stories, researching art influences, sketching scenes, scouting locations, and often approaching strangers to help depict these stories.
The process essentially was a way of communicating with the past – it’s an attempt to see how my ancestors viewed the world, nature, and the unknown; while also forming a present that belongs entirely to us, a way of community building and bringing people together over a curious subject.
For most stories, I create only one image of what may be a decisive moment or a moment of contemplation. For example, this image is based on the indigenous story Sky Woman who descends from the sky world and lands on a turtles back. The Earth at this point completely under water. I asked why she was leaving the sky world; something we still don’t know, and made an image about that.
- This series includes more than fifty images based solely on indigenous oral stories, but as time went on, I began to include other influences and sources, for example, making art-history references to Jacques-Louis David in regard to nationhood and allegory, the Post-colonial Native American psychology texts of Eduardo Duran that explain contemporary issues in indigenous communities and their colonial roots, and decolonization concepts of Tuhiwai Smith that encourage the reclamation of indigenous perspectives.
- I realized in this work that one can be critical, talk about taboo, and also create empowering images – most importantly for me, placing indigenous people in roles that complicate their representation and symbolism.
- This image was done while I was an artist in residence at the Center for Photography at Woodstock this past August.
While I was gathering historical research last year from a different project, one story that stayed with me began at a physical historical marker I visited, dedicated in 1935.
During the 17th century, Shelter Island’s Sachem Pogatticut was interred in Montauk, but on the way there, the funerary procession rested at this spot between Sag Harbor and East Hampton – creating a sacred space recognized by NY State.
- The stories I’m attracted to most relate to origin stories, for example the creation and shaping of land, people’s connection to place, and the creation of species. I believe that by focusing on these early moments, indigenous people can begin to distance ourselves from the painful history assimilation and colonization that affect us every day, and for non-indigenous audiences, a necessary respect for nature can be developed, moving us away from seeing the earth as solely a resource.
- In April 2016, I received the Dreamstarter grant from the Running Strong for American Indian Youth organization, co-founded by Oglala Sioux and Gold Metal Olympian Runner Billy Mills, to pursue a project that aims to preserve local indigenous sacred, historical, and archaeological landscapes throughout Long Island, challenging perceptions of indigenous presence and significance.
This was a perfect project to begin as I returned home from school in Pennsylvania, and having the landscape as available model or subject for camera.
This is an image is taken at a place known as Massacre Valley, just south of Fort Hill Cemetery in Montauk.
- This was a positive and important project that allowed self-representation from indigenous people, while receiving a strong appreciation through the generous support of many organizations who made this project possible. The grant allowed me to create a website, create prints and purchase frames, and design a book.
This past June, I was a resident at the Watermill Center, and during my two weeks there, I designed a fine art photo book that I self-published and brought with me today.
The process of transcribing lesser known texts at libraries and historical societies has made me aware of many important narratives that this project has been able to create awareness of, and influence new branch off ideas.
I am apply for future grants that will allow me to conduct more research and travel, produce new prints, and curate more exhibitions.