In their stories, Drew found connections to his own struggles with his identity as an African American. He was also drawn to the larger history of conflict between Native Americans and the United States government.
Drew describes the project’s intent to “redefine the tribal people in the area as no longer the victims of the injustices brought upon them by the U.S. government, but as strong and powerful people of today.” By using the tintype process, a popular portrait medium in late-nineteenth-century America, he connects the past to the present and re-contextualizes contemporary Native Americans as the protagonists of their own stories.
Drew won the trust of the people he photographed when he ran fifteen miles alongside them (in sandals) during a relay race to Lava Beds National Monument, the site of the Modoc War (1872–73)—a costly, protracted confrontation in which the about sixty Modoc men and their families held off the United States Army for nearly seven months.
Native Portraits: Contemporary Tintypes by Ed Drew was organized by the California Historical Society.