Sit for Navajo artist Will Wilson in his tintype studio at the Denver Art Museum

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"How the West is One," 2012, ©Will Wilson. Tintype wet collodion process, printed on duratran and back-lit LED, 2012.
When we think of photography and American Indians today, the first images that come to mind -- ironically and invariably -- are the famous, early twentieth-century photogravure portraits by ethnologist Edward S. Curtis.

A century later, Navajo photographer and installation artist Will Wilson decided it was time to update the antiquated Curtis images with new ones reflecting indigenous peoples in modern terms. To do that, he turned to a classic look, using wetplate techniques combined with digital processes to create The Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange, a body of work that updates native culture to modern times.

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Finished tintype images.
But all this week, through Sunday, Wilson will be in the Denver Art Museum's artist-in-residence studio in the American Indian Galleries (third floor of the North Building) from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, making tintypes of anyone who walks in. Reservations are not needed, but expect to wait your turn. (Wilson says that on a good day, he can process about five tintypes in an hour.) And after you've posed for his antique camera and he's disappeared into the red, Eskimo ice-fishing tent that serves as his portable darkroom to conjure the image, you'll receive the plate as a free memento.

If five straight hours of photographic alchemy sounds like a grind, don't worry. "This is like a working vacation for me," Wilson notes cheerfully, as he applies chemicals to the tin plates that will hold the images. It's an imperfect technique -- during our studio visit with Wilson, he wasn't getting images as clear as he'd like -- but a fascinating one.

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John Gritts, of Cherokee descent, posed with an heirloom photo of his great-great-grandmother, who marched the Trail of Tears during forced tribal relocation in the 1830s.

As part of his residence (backed by an NEA grant received by the DAM in November), Wilson will also be available for chatting from 1 to 2 p.m. Friday, March 29, at an Insider Moment with Will Wilson (seventh floor photography gallery, North Building). And from 6 to 10 p.m. that night, he'll be part of the DAM's Friday-night Untitled #55 (Bound), during which a pop-up gallery of work created during Wilson's residency will appear; it will stay up through April 7.

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Will Wilson setting up a tintype shot for museum visitors.
All events and exhibits in conjunction with Wilson's DAM stay are included in the regular museum admission price; visit the DAM online for information.

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Denver Art Museum

100 W. 14th Ave. Parkway, Denver, CO

Category: General

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