STAGING THE WEST
Photographs from Staging the West feature German “Indianer” performing theatrical productions of Western stories from popular fiction writer Karl May (1842 – 1912). May had purportedly seen Buffalo’s Bill’s “Wild West” show in Dresden and thereafter fashioned himself after the famous frontiersman, complete with a fringed buckskin jacket and wide-brimmed hat.
My first encountered with the Indianer was a festival near May’s home in Radebeul, Germany. I was surprised to find people of all ages in costume, many who at night gathered at a frontier style saloon and listened to country-western music. The climax of the event was a Pow-Wow where members of a Native American tribe from the United States spoke in their native language (interpreted in German for the audience) and danced around a fire. Hobbyists at this annual event were notably the subject of photographs by Andrea Robbins and Max Becher in the late 1990’s.
There are two distinct “tribes” of Germans that perform as Native Americans. One group strives for an authentic Indian experience through realistic-looking costumes, period camping in tepees, and the performance of supposed ceremonial customs. The other group, the one I photographed, includes actors performing May’s Western tales that cast Native Americans as heroes and whites as corrupt villains. Unlike the re-enactors, they perform for audiences of thousands each summer weekend across Germany in theatrical productions reminiscent of Buffalo Bill’s “Wild West” show.
Through various projects I have sought to create a dialogue between the factual and fictional West by exposing the contradictions of the imagined, frequently romantic, American frontier. Staging the West continues this decade-long exploration.