Though he never became nationally famous, early 20th century photographer Frank Bennett Fiske was one of the country’s most prolific portraitists of members the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North Dakota. Starting when he took over his mentor’s photography studio in Fort Yates, North Dakota when he was just 16, he spent much of his career documenting Native American life.
Fiske’s rarely seen photos are the subject of a new book, The Standing Rock Portraits. Curated by fellow North Dakotan Murray Lemley, a photographer and graphic designer, the book is filled with dozens of studio portraits Fiske shot of his Sioux neighbors.
Though he worked closely with his Native neighbors, and spent years researching the history of the Sioux people, Fiske wasn’t free of racial biases: His writings betray significant condescension toward them, and he supported the violent U.S. military intervention deployed to suppressed the Lakota Ghost Dance in 1890, when the Army massacred at least 150 Native American men, women, and children at Wounded Knee. Only a few decades later, in 1917, he wrote that the Sioux were a “good natured people” who were “not at all dissatisfied with their lot in life.” (With shrinking territory, forced assimilation, and a government-imposed school system designed to strip Native children of their cultural identity, his Sioux neighbors might have disagreed with that assessment.)
Fiske photographed prominent tribe members like One Bull and White Bull, the nephews of famous Lakota leader Sitting Bull.