The Magic of Dick Bancroft's Photography
Hanta po: all of you out of my way
Metropolitan State University was lucky to have Dick Bancroft’s Hanta Po: All of You Out of My Way in the library’s Third Floor Gallery from November 16 through December 15, 2006. The show has been traveling and was, most notably, at the Ancient Traders Gallery on Franklin Avenue in 2005. Bancroft was the first, and possibly the last, non-Indian to show work at the aforementioned gallery, which is a testament to his involvement in the American Indian Movement (AIM).
Bancroft has been photographing Indians, both North American and Central and South American, as a part of the AIM for over 35 years and says that he is intrigued by the strength he has found among those he is photographing. He was attracted to AIM because of personalities of those leading it (Clyde Bellancourt, Russell Means) and decided to participate in a way that had yet to be done: photography. The photographs included in Hanta Po are those of strength, depth and determination. The lines and expressions in the faces of those photographed show that none of his subjects are nameless art subjects. Instead, they all have a name and a story.
His photography truly does tell stories. As much as writers have the ability to record what they see in the world around them on paper, Bancroft has managed to capture in-depth scenes in photographs. Just one tells a full story. Bancroft is typically known to present his photographs as a slide show presentation, which includes him speaking, so he can tell the full story of his subjects and so he can communicate the surrounding world’s story to those that are viewing his work. This exhibit proves that one does not need to have those explanations (though interesting and educational) to understand the weight of each of these photos.
The topics of his photos are deep. He addresses issues like The Trail of Tears, The Longest Walk, United Nations Conferences. In his photo “Listening to Testimony on the Sterilization of Indian Women”, Bancroft profoundly portrays the pain about the sterilization of Indian women, which was something that was typically done to American Indian Women, occasionally without their knowledge and usually without their choice.
The true magic of Bancroft is his ability to capture reality in such an understated way that those viewing the pictures immediately understand the emotion behind them.
My first personal experience with Bancroft’s work was when I was a little girl. There was a framed photograph of an old American Indian’s face that hung on a wall in my family’s Wisconsin cabin. I found myself staring at it nearly every weekend, intrigued by the heavy lines and traditional paint on the old man’s face, and finding myself mesmerized by the deep sadness mixed with strength that showed in his eyes. I never knew that the photograph was taken by Bancroft, or even who he was, until I attended the Hanta Po exhibit. There it dawned on me that this was the man that had taken the photo that I had so long been haunted by.
Even as a little girl, I understood the meaning behind Bancroft’s photographs, without even knowing who he was or how instrumental he is to the AIM. Now that I have been given an opportunity to learn more about him I realize the effect he has had both on the movement itself and on photography. Bancroft has a true gift and those who attended the exhibit were lucky to have had the opportunity to witness and feel it.