Late last year, Aaron Huey and I met at his favourite coffee shop in Seattle (the only coffee shop in the city without WiFi, as far as I know). During our chat, his phone was buzzing; on the line was Emphas.is finalising the details of his Pine Ridge Billboard Project pitch.
PINE RIDGE RESERVATION
Ever since Huey’s powerful and viral TED talk last year, he’s been inundated with inquiries from people wanting to get involved and contribute. Huey admitted to being conflicted by his unexpected propulsion into the centre of a nebulous political energy, partly because he doesn’t have all the answers and partly because his work still doesn’t sit well with some of the Lakota community. Understandably, some Lakota don’t want images of broken homes and broken bodies to be consumed by white America. Still, Huey has the faith of the majority within the Lakota people.
With a story so large and important – and solutions so complex – Huey was unsettled with the status and future of his Pine Ridge documentary work; he had not pushed the political issue as far as it warranted. From his Emphas.is pitch:
I have been documenting the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation for the past six years. Recently I have realized how inappropriate it is for this project to end with another book or a gallery show. […] Your involvement will help raise the visibility of these images by taking them straight to the public—to the sides of buses, subway tunnels, and billboards. I want people to think about prisoner of war camps in America on their commute to work. I want the message to be so loud that it cannot be ignored.
Emphas.is has given Huey, the Lakota people and us the opportunity to see and react to the work in unmissable public locations. It puts it in the face of D.C. politicians. Huey has enlisted the help of Shepard Fairey and artist and activist Ernesto Yerena who created visuals for the Alto Arizona campaign.
PRISONER OF WAR CAMP #344
Huey’s photographs depict high unemployment, broken families, alcohol abuse and life expectancy lower than that in Afghanistan. The statistics are shocking.
But more than that, Huey’s photographs show the legacy of the lies and broken treaties of the US government stretching back over a century. If the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868) had been observed, then the Lakota and associated Sioux tribes would own land stretching across five states.
To refer to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation as a prisoner of war camp may seem incendiary to some, but this is how many of the Lakota see their existence. The Black Hills have been stolen and the Lakota live on the most infertile land fenced in on all sides by an encroaching dominant culture that they’ve predominantly experienced as oppressing and damaging. The solutions are not simple, but awareness and a will to action is.
Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is prisoner of war camp #344.
I have offered what support I can to the new crowd-funding platform Emphas.is with articles here on Prison Photography and for Wired.com. Three of the online critics I respect most (Colin, David and Joerg) have also put their weight behind it. I am chuffed to see Aaron’s proposal off the ground and I’d ask you seriously to consider funding the Pine Ridge Billboard Project.
Mock-up of a wall installation using 24x 26″ posters, proposed Pine Ridge Billboard Project
OUTLETS FOR ACTION: Throughout the campaign a website honorthetreaties.org will be formed. Aaron will build the site as a point of reference for those who want to know more about the history and the (broken) treaties of the Sioux and other tribes. There will be direct links to assist grassroots Native non-profits in places like Pine Ridge.The first partner is Owe Aku.
More on Aaron’s blog here.
Buy a 18×24 print signed by Shepard Fairey and Aaron Huey to support the project!