Fashion, Beauty, and the Challenge of Identification: A Seminole Tribune Story

 

By Tara Backhouse, Collections Manager

 

Here at the Museum we’ve partnered with the Seminole Tribune, the Seminole Tribe of Florida’s own newspaper, to care for thousands of photographs that their hardworking reporters took for the Tribe for over 30 years.  From STOF events and community milestones, to personal vacations and news from Indian Country, these reporters really went to the ends of the earth in order to document decades of happenings.  You can imagine that is a lot of photos.  We estimate there are around 30,000!  Since they were transferred to the Museum in 2015 we’ve been working hard to get them cataloged and into our database, so that we can keep track of them and preserve them for the future.  I’m happy to report that we are almost halfway there, with over 15,000 cataloged into our database!  This is impressive if you consider that these are not the only objects we’re cataloging.  Seminole history doesn’t stop, and neither do we!  Come see us if you want to learn how and why we take care of the things we take care of.  It is definitely an eye-opener for most people.

 

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A screenshot from our collections management database: this is what a well identified photograph looks like in our system

These days, photographs are digital, and the newspaper has no need for our services with their current work. However, we are happy to help care for the pictures they took in the past, because they are a treasure trove of information about recent Tribal life and activities.  It’s our mission to help preserve those things, and it’s also our mission to bring this history back to anyone in the community who wants it.  One of the ways we do this is by providing copies of photographs in our collection to community members who want pictures of themselves or families.  In order to do this, we need to gather identifications, because not all of the photos come with any identifying information.  Getting photographs identified is harder than it sounds, and that’s because of the number of photographs we’re working with, and the fact that we have to preserve them once they are cataloged, and they can’t be traveled around and handled by lots of people.

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By storing photographs and documents in acid-free containers, out of direct light, and in conditions of stable temperature and humidity, we can ensure these objects last for generations

 

We can overcome the latter problem by showing people copies or digital versions of the photographs at a community event, for example, but it’s still an issue of scale. We can’t spread out 30,000 photographs on a table, so we have to choose a selection to take with us.

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This is just some of the 30,000 photographs we took custody of in 2015 and we had quite an organizational job ahead of us before cataloging could take place

And choosing the best selection of photographs is difficult. The people we run into may not know anything about the selection we have chosen to share at that time, but they might be very familiar with a selection of photographs that is waiting back at the Museum.  That is why the online collections section of our website comes in handy.  Here, people can search for names, places and events in order to find photographs they are interested in:

http://semtribe.pastperfectonline.com/

OnlineCollections

 

Other ways we can share smaller subsets of pictures are through the Seminole Tribune itself, and through the Museum’s blog! (Hint: that’s what I’m doing now)

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Recently I came across just one such subset. Last month I cataloged a bunch of similar portrait-style close-up photographs of well-dressed people.

 

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People are often wearing patchwork or other types of traditional Seminole clothing and posing thoughtfully for the pictures.

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 Traditional clothing is a popular category at STOF clothing contests, and in this portrait Jimmy O’Toole Osceola wears an early 20th century style bigshirt and turban combination (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13240)

 

Maybe they were doing this because they were all ready to participate in a clothing contest, such as the ones held every year Tribal Fair.  People spend a lot of time making clothing for these contests and then get together to show them off and compete in categories. Indeed, some of the photographs are labeled with the initials “TF96” on the back, and we know that refers to the Tribal Fair celebration in 1996.

 

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This portrait of an unidentified man wearing a patchwork jacket and cowboy hat was taken at the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tribal Fair celebration in 1996 (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.14286)

But we’re not sure that all these photographs were taken at a Tribal Fair event. Clothing contests also take place at other times and on other reservations.  And some may not have been taking during contests at all.

 

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Rita Gopher takes part in a clothing contest in Immokalee in 1999 (ATTK Catalog Numbers 2015.6.14274 and .14275

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As the Museum and THPO’s first executive director, Billy L. Cypress often showed off traditional garb like this, so this photograph could have been taken at any number of events (ATTK Catalog No. 2015.6.13280)

 

We wonder how often the newspaper was in the habit of taking such stunning pictures of so many photogenic folks? Was it only for a couple of years?  Could it be for at any event or any location? Do you know any of the people that we haven’t identified in this blog?  Any information we can gather helps us preserve and share the past.

These are nice portraits, and we imagine that if you were the subject of one, you probably didn’t get a copy at the time.  It wasn’t that easy 15 or 20 years ago, when film had to be commercially developed and printed.  These days we can make digital copies quickly and we’d be happy to do that for you.  Maybe you’re looking for a nice photo of a family member?  Or maybe you just want to see what the Seminole Tribune reporters were up to from the 1980’s to the early 2000’s.  The easiest way to see our photographs is to browse over 11,000 through the online collections on our website.  Try this shortened link to bring up just the Seminole Tribune photograph collection:

 

https://tinyurl.com/y86latru

 

But if you’re in the area, you can also come to the Museum library to see the photographs.  We’re happy to help and it’s easier if you make an appointment.  Just call 863-902-1113 and ask for the Library.   See you soon!

Author: Collections Division

The Collections Division manages the Museum's collections, produces and maintains exhibits, conducts the oral history program, and staffs the Museum's village.

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