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 Roland Reed  (1864 - 1934)

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Lived/Active: Minnesota/Wisconsin      Known for: photography, western Indian subject sketching

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Ad Code: 4
Biography from Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site:
Roland W. Reed was an American photographer who was born in 1864 in the Fox River Valley of Wisconsin.  His parents were farm people of Scottish ancestry.  He grew up in a log cabin near the old Indian trail that led from Lake Poygan to Fond du Lac, and the hero of his boyhood days was an Indian named Thundercloud—the chief of a band of Menominies who camped on the opposite side of the lake.

Reed's handwritten notes (which have survived these many years packed with his glass-plate negatives) reveal that he remained keenly interested in Indians throughout his early life, and that at the age of eighteen he headed west—where he first attempted to record their vanishing faces in crayon and pencil.  It was the beginning of a lifelong odyssey that would see him journey back and forth across this continent—always in search of Indian subjects.

Reed's early sketches have not been found and were probably destroyed.  In 1893, he met Daniel Dutro, a professional photographer in Havre, Montana.  Reed recalled: "I knew that if I could master this seemingly easy way of making pictures (photography), I would have no trouble in getting all the Indian pictures I wanted."  Dutro and Reed subsequently worked together for a few years doing portrait photography and also supplying Indian photographs to the news department of the Great Northern Railroad.

But Reed's adventuresome spirit could not be long suppressed, and in 1897 he signed on with Associated Press to photograph the Klondike gold rush in Alaska.  A few years later he was doing studio work in Fort Benton and, subsequently, Great Falls, Montana.  He then headed east to Minnesota where he set up studios at Bemidji and Ortonville.  Although records indicate that his studio work was highly successful and he enjoyed a loyal clientele, he worked primarily for one reason:  to finance his field work among the Indians.

Gaining the Indians' confidence must surely be one of his major accomplishments.  In a personal letter, Reed once explained something of how he obtained his pictures:

"In approaching the Indian for the purpose of taking his picture, it was necessary to respect his stoicism and reticence which have so often been the despair of the amateur photographer.  A friend once characterized my method of attack as indicative of Chinese patience, book-agent persistence and Arab subtlety.   In going into a new tribe with photographic paraphernalia, although I hire ponies and guides, I never once suggest the object of my visit.  When the Indians, out of curiosity at last, inquire about my work, I reply casually, 'Oh, when I'm at home, I'm a picture-making man.'  Perhaps within a few days an Indian will ask, 'You say you are a picture-making man.  Could you make our pictures?'  My reply is non-committal—'I don't know.  Perhaps.'  'Would you try?' 'Sometime, when I feel like making pictures.'  Further time elapses, apparently the picture-making man has forgotten all about making pictures until an Indian friend reminds him of his promise.  Then the time for the picture-making has arrived.

Shortly before his death in 1934, he concluded that it was no longer possible to obtain authentic Indian pictures.  Their historic costumes and accouterments, he said, had all been sold to tourists and there were few pure racial types still alive.  Regrettably, Reed never accomplished the publication of his hoped-for volume of Indian photographs.  Until 1978, the collection remained in the hands of relatives; then Kramer Gallery and Studio of St. Paul, Minnesota acquired the entire Roland Reed collection of some one-hundred-eighty glass plate negatives and all reproduction rights from heirs to the Reed estate.


Kramer Gallery & Studio.  "Images of the Southwest:  Photographs of the American Indian."  Southwest Series.  1st of 5 catalogs.  Roland Reed Photographer.  St. Paul, Minnesota: Kramer Gallery & Studio.  1980.

Personal Communication.  Mike Smith.  Boulder Street Gallery; 725 North Tejon Street; Colorado Springs, CO  80903; 719-636-9358.

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