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Missing Murdered Indigenous Women | #MMIW | Red Dress

A Passion Project |

What started off as a school project, turned into one of the more powerful pieces of work I've done. Inspired by spreading awareness for an epidemic that is affecting Indigenous women all over this continent, I present my take on the red dress.



Why

For my final for my studio lighting class, we were tasked with shooting a series with off camera lighting. The prompt was open so we were allowed to shoot whatever we wanted. Naturally, I always try to bring in cultural aspects into my work. So I decided to make a piece of work that brought more awareness to the MMIW (Missing Murdered Indigenous Women) epidemic. I started out with so many different ideas but after research and contemplating (plus keeping in consideration of COVID with social distancing) I decided to try my take on shooting dresses.



How

I went out and found dresses for each walk of life, from ages 1-80+ (as the research I found had cases from as young as 1 to an 83 year old.) I also found it extremely important to represent our two spirited people as well as they too are affected. I shot at specific locations where through my research, read where victims were either taken, assaulted or found. I shot these images as though there were still individuals inside. I wanted free-standing dresses so that they had an impact of letting the viewer envision that this could be their wife, mother, cousin, niece, sister.. daughter.



Behind The Scenes

To create the look of the images in this series, I absolutely needed a strobe. I wanted drama, intensity- I wanted them to be haunting. With some creative thinking and some amazing assistants (who I forced to help, but were paid.... with coffees), I was able to get the look I wanted for these images.

  • The Train Tracks: I knew I wanted a shot with water. Almost all of the images represent the different environments we have around us, fields, forest, rivers, etc. So I knew water and reflections were my goal for this image. Yes, that's me shooting across the river- and yes I had about 3 mini heart attacks when my assistants had the strobe over the river.

  • The Family Tree: An image that I really wanted to reshoot but still feel that it is adequate enough to present now. This image represents all the women, little girls to our elders who are victim to MMIW- the tree is a representation of the family tree and of what is lost when our women are taken.

  • The Forest: The first image of this series that I took was, The Forest. When I seen this dress at the Salvation Army, I knew I wanted it because of it's sheerness and I knew exactly how I was going to shoot it. This image was the image that made me realize how I wanted to set the tone for the rest of the series.

  • The Field: This image was probably the most difficult to capture as it was in a field with LOTS of wind. The dress kept flowing every which way and it became hard to make it look like there was an actual person inside. Also, it was probably the most uncomfortable as I had many slow drive-by rubbernecking to see what I was doing.

  • The Weeping Willow: This image was probably my favorite to shoot- I got to play with my strobe in the complete darkness! I also think aesthetically and conceptually, it is my favorite. With the powerful representation of an elder being the base foundation of a family tree- they are so incredibly important to family units in Indian Country. Also, I thought it was appropriate to represent that devastation loss with a Weeping Willow tree.




The Outcome

I presented this series to my class and it was well received. I presented it with title cards made from foam core, with the titles and informational stats about this devastating epidemic. These title cards gave the much needed context that made these images even more powerful. Students noted that they didn't know about this issue and/or didn't know the volume of it.


As for the future of this series, I would love one day to show them in a gallery setting, possibly submit them to some publications. Also, I would love to make prints available for purchase so we could help create some tangible help to the movement helping to save our women.






Awareness Inspires Change

After taking these images and seeing how powerful they’ve become, I wanted to share them with the world. I however, still feel that it isn't finished. I still have a couple photographs that’d I’ll like to shoot/reshoot so that I’m truly happy with them. At the end of the day, as an artist I hope that I can touch someone or bring a little more awareness to this devastation and help make this world a little safer for our sisters #MMIW



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