We are pleased to announce that a finding aid for the Jacqueline Moreau papers is now available on Archives West. The Jacqueline Moreau papers consist of an equal mixture of manuscript materials and photographs. The biographical material, correspondence, subject files, publications, and clippings that comprise the manuscript portion complement the photographic materials, providing historical context, and descriptive information about the photographs and Ms. Moreau’s work.
The photographs – which are almost exclusively black and white, gelatin silver prints – were processed in Moreau’s home darkroom. She continues to process all her photographs herself, and one of the highlights of the collection is the documentation of her photographic process. At the core of the collection is Ms. Moreau’s documentation of the lives of Native American peoples along the Columbia River, and their struggle to secure the rights afforded to them by a provision in the 1855 treaty. Moreau’s work was recently featured in the exhibit From Curtis to Corinne: Selections from the University of Oregon’s Photography Collections; to learn more about this exhibit, please visit the Knight Library’s Exhibits page.
Ms. Moreau graciously agreed to answer a few questions about how she got her start as a photographer and her photographic process, and how she first became interested in documenting the lives of Native American peoples.
Do you remember your first camera? Do you still have it?
My first camera was a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye or something similar. I was eleven or twelve years old, and photographed my siblings and zoo animals. I don’t have the camera anymore and must have had it just long enough to shoot a couple of rolls of film. Then there was no more film. Poor, with family break-up in progress, my art education was left to public school, which, thankfully, funded art. Teachers encouraged and guided me. Later, I appreciated having had the access to materials and instruction in art, because it made all the difference in my personal development. I got serious about photography in my twenties.
Can you tell us a bit about your process as a photographer? When working on a photography project, how do you begin?
One important thing in my photography work that I aimed for was having an informal team composed of myself and the people whom I photographed. I would try to explain why a particular assignment was important so the people being photographed could benefit somehow and I could have their support in carrying out my work. After that, I would process film and make prints of the images that had both aesthetic impact and truthful meaning that might be present in a few negatives from the many 35 mm negatives I shot per photo session. To do that, I drew on the seemingly millions of pictures and picture essays that I myself viewed made by the greats in photojournalism and documentary photography. W. Eugene Smith and Dorothea Lange come to mind. There were so many I looked up to. Also, my photo editors at various newspapers and United Press International taught me how to edit as well as how to approach assignment subjects. I felt I had to be truthful to the subject matter and the lives of the people portrayed. Of course, my judgment was subjective about what was truthful and aesthetic. I would test certain prints on people and watch their reactions to the images. That way, I could expand my own view of things and get new ideas.
My process in the dark room was very intensive; I demanded a lot of myself. The standards were high. The small size of a 35mm negative frame puts limits on the maximum print size because of grain; it’s difficult to make large prints look good. I would study and find out about the different photography papers available. In those days you would actually have to go to the photo stores and look at paper samples that the big companies like Kodak would make available. Agfa made beautiful papers. It was a large company right up there with Kodak and Ilford. I used Kodak film mostly and experimented with various developers and dilutions. I would experiment with different films and papers until I arrived at the look I wanted. I had a darkroom and that’s where the magic happened making prints.
Seeing and looking are different things. I fine-tuned seeing so I thought I could recognize key aspects in a scene. This has a lot to do with composing as in drawing, painting, and music. I learned from making errors, too (often). There are ways to train to see more fully. I worked in my darkroom every day, and always had a darkroom wherever I lived. Kitchens, bathrooms, basements were used. I was busy, raised two children, and worked other jobs. It gives me enjoyment when others are pleased with my work. Of course, even those who are not pleased often have something to say that gives me something to consider. Even if the subject matter might be uncomfortable or painful, that’s useful. Pain is useful to acknowledge so you can move on.
What first got you interested in documenting the culture/lives of Native Americans?
My interest in Native Americans began with 1950s television westerns. Even at nine or ten, I sensed that the portrayal of Indians was obviously limited to roles of “bad guys” and “savages.” An aspect of television and cinema that fascinated me was the American landscape of the West, romantically portrayed with Indians, buffalo, and horses roaming the plains and mountains under cumulus cloud-filled skies. Of course, those scenes were beautiful, meant to entertain. Truthful history, racism, and genocide literally did not enter the picture. Nevertheless, however obliquely, our storied land holds a Native American presence and connection. If you were not Indian and did not know Indian families, how could one learn about America‘s first people and what mattered to them?
In San Francisco, where I lived, the public library was a great educational resource. But, for children especially, the selection was limited and Native American history taught in school was limited to Thanksgiving myths, and referred to Indians as having lived in the past tense. What I learned on my own fascinated me, that native peoples the world over sustained themselves with materials and foods and spiritual practices in their environment. I read about the Sioux leaders, Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse. I recall feeling very sad reading about the murders of these two great figures, and the demise of their food source, the buffalo. I was impressed by [their] bravery, and the will to fight against great odds for one’s way of life. I adopted a similar attitude in living my own life, especially after, as a teenager, I learned about my Jewish heritage, which had been kept a secret, something my parents felt ashamed of. Studies of the Holocaust and Hiroshima fueled my desire to become involved with the eternally pertinent issues of justice and peace. In the 1960s, volunteer work placed me in the presence of Native Americans, during the Native American occupation of Alcatraz.
In my work as a freelance newspaper photographer, I met Indian men and women leaders who were battling systems and attitudes that were, and still are, forces of oppression. I heard their stories and concerns. I was simply there and made myself useful. The people I met were incredibly generous and kind to me as I immersed myself in the Indian world. “You have a purpose,” said one elder. This was it: making my photographs into a collection useful for public education, meanwhile supplying tribal members with photographs useful for their own purposes.
As my freelance newspaper career wound down, I sought to continue producing photographs about the River People, Native Americans of the Columbia River bordering Oregon and Washington and a way to do that was to apply for grants and support myself with other jobs that sometimes took me away from the scene several months at a time. Transportation and some materials were covered by the grant money. I worked for nearly ten years on the River People photography project. I was always conscious of trying to do this work in the right spirit.
The Jacqueline Moreau papers are open for use during Special Collections and University Archives open hours. Educators interested in integrating Ms. Moreau’s work into their curriculum, or in scheduling an instruction session, should contact Jennifer O’Neal, University Archivist and Historian, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We would like to extend heartfelt thanks to the tribal members and elders who provided valuable insight into the collection and its significance, including Chief Wilbur Slockish, Randy Settler, Chief Johnny Jackson, Colt Moreau-Pitt, David SoHappy, Jr., and Cliff Alexander. Thanks also to Craig Lesley, Linda Turner, and Steve and Sue Koontz.
Rachel Lilley │ Assistant Processing and Public Services Archivist
Jacqueline Moreau │ Photographer