November is National Native American Heritage Month, and the downtown branch of the Spokane Public Library is featuring an exhibit by local photographer Robert Charloe which showcases decades of his work exploring the experience of American Indians in the northwest and beyond.
Robert Charloe’s vibrant color photographs stand out against the blue walls of the art gallery on the first floor of the Downtown Spokane Public Library as he gives me a tour of each wall.
“I get a lot of my inspiration for imagery from old masters,” Charloe says. “I look at old paintings, old drawings, sculpture, anything.”
Charloe is a proud enrolled member of the Kalispel Tribe of Indians who has been taking and exhibiting artistic photographs since 1978. Perhaps his most well-recognized image is of a lone teepee topped by an American flag, which was used as the cover image for the 2009 PBS American Experience documentary “We Shall Remain, America Through Native Eyes.”
“WGBH, American Experience got ahold of me and said, ‘Bob, you know, out of the eight cities we went to, your poster showed up in three of them,’” Charloe says. “Whoa, really? People just kept saying, ‘This is the image you’ve got to use.’ I said, well gee, thank them for me.”
While much of his work deals with the experience of American Indians, Charloe’s artist’s statement for the exhibit is careful to address the danger of stereotypes.
“Now me being an American Indian, an artist and photographer by trade, I must ask myself: Do my images perpetuate these stereotypical, mythical half-truths or false, over-generalized idea of the experience of being both an American Indian and an artist. I hope not.”
In fact, Charloe eschews labels which might attempt to pigeonhole his artistic expression.
“Because people are starting to realize that American Indians are in every part of their lives. Whether they’re an artist, a congressman, a mayor, or a lawyer,” Charloe says. “We’ve become part of America as much as America has become part of us.”
Robert Charloe’s photographs will be on display at the Downtown Spokane Public Library through Friday November 29th.