Kalpesh Lathigra was born in London, England in 1971 and educated at the London College of Printing with a Postgraduate Diploma in Photojournalism. After leaving the course in 1994, he was awarded The Independent Newspaper Photographer Traineeship. Kalpesh worked for The Independent as a staff photographer for one year before freelancing for the national newspapers in the UK for six years covering news and features. In 2000, he gave up working for newspapers and made the decision to work on long-term projects and magazine and commercial assignments. In the same year he was awarded a 1st Arts Prize in the World Press Photo. In 2003, he embarked on a long-term project documenting the lives of Widows in India, receiving The W.Eugene Smith Fellowship and Churchill Fellowship. He has recently completed Lost in the Wilderness, a body of work looking at life on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota which he plans to publish as a monograph.
Mark Sealy, director of Autograph ABP, in conversation with Kalpesh Lathigra.
Hello. My name is Sacheen Littlefeather. I’m Apache and I am president of the National Native American Affirmative Image Committee. I’m representing Marlon Brando this evening, and he has asked me to tell you in a very long speech which I cannot share with you presently, because of time, but I will be glad to share with the press afterwards, that he very regretfully cannot accept this very generous award. And the reasons for this being are the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry — excuse me — and on television in movie reruns, and also with recent happenings at Wounded Knee. I beg at this time that I
have not intruded upon this evening, and that we will in the future, our hearts and our understandings will meet with love and generosity. Thank you on behalf of Marlon Brando.
— Sacheen Littlefeather, Academy Awards Acceptance Speech on behalf of Marlon Brando, delivered March 27, 1973, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, Los Angeles
Can you explain the genesis of your project? Pine Ridge Reservation, South Dakota, USA, is a long way from East London.
It’s funny as a child how we don’t question the games we play and the slow burn of what we take in via popular media like film, books, and the simple conversations that we have. It’s difficult to think of a child of my generation of not having played cowboys andIndians, of not watching John Wayne, Gary Cooper in action against the Indians, who always were the enemy.
Always seen as savage, brutes, and cultureless, and always had to be eradicated, wipedout, burned to the ground, exterminated. Most films it seemed ended when all the Indians were dead, their bows, arrows, tomahawks, and spears being no match for rifles.
I was always the Indian in these games, never the cowboy. Why? Because of the fact I have Indian, as in the subcontinent, heritage. India is where as a child I was seen to be from. This fact alone made it my destiny never to be the hero.
Later on in life I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, Soul on Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. These books were not part of the school curriculum, rather the curriculum of friends who felt abandoned by the school. They had a profound effect on my being.
These texts transformed many of us marginalized kids who grew up in the 1960s and ’70s. I remember reading Frantz Fanon in the ’70s and thinking at last an articulation I could genuinely identify with.
As I started to make photographs, my projects would be informed by these books, so it comes as no surprise that in the research stages of Lost in the Wilderness, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, and Ian Frazier’s On the Rez became important texts to help me work through the idea of making photographs at Pine Ridge Reservation.
What concerned you most about the idea of making photographs at Pine Ridge?
The questions one asks as an artist are first, why am I making this work?; secondly, how do I break away from cliches of images that exist?; thirdly, how do these photographs actually empower people, what do they say? I was concerned about the role of voyeur, of course, but I wanted to make something more lyrical more metaphorical.
Make a contribution to the why of the condition of the subjects framed?
This work is as much about one’s experiences, the self, but through the monocle of someone else’s condition that I can relate to.
Explain the title.
Lost in the Wilderness . . . feeling at home, at one in a place that is not your home; it’s not East London, England, not India, not Africa. Pine Ridge is a vast area of land. I did not go out to make a photojournalistic
essay on life in Pine Ridge or a study of the Lakota Sioux tribe. I am not Edward Curtis. These photographs are of people, places, moments, and things (still life and details) I connected with. This, I feel, allows stories to be told within the individual photographs themselves.
Mark Sealy is the director of Autograph ABP. He is a PhD candidate at Durham University, and his research focuses on photography and cultural violence. www.autograph-abp.co.uk
Kalpesh Lathigra lives in London and completed his residency at Light Work in February 2014. www.kalpeshlathigra.com