After including Tom Jones’ striking Elizah Leonard photograph in our fall 2020 exhibition, Bockley Gallery is honored to present a larger selection of works from his recent portrait series Strong Unrelenting Spirits, shown earlier this year at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Santa Fe, NM. Each of the nine digital photographs on view is a vivid exploration of Jones’ Ho-Chunk identity. His subjects look directly into the camera lens with a steady gaze, or just slightly away, thus implicating the viewer in their lives. Jones has embellished the black ground of each portrait with designs made from beads, thus animating and deepening the cultural texture of his work.
“I extend the boundaries of photography by incorporating beadwork directly onto the photograph. The use of Ho-Chunk floral and geometric designs is a metaphor for the spirits of our ancestors who are constantly looking over us,” states Jones.
Jones further explains the inspiration for incorporating beadwork into his portraits. “As a child, I went with my mother to see a Sioux medicine man on the Rosebud reservation. We sat on the floor along the walls with many other people, when the lights were turned off the women started to sing. They were asking for the spirits to come in, it was at this time that small orbs of light began to float around the room. I have visually incorporated this experience through beadwork, in order to give a symbolic representation of our ancestors and to present the pride, strength and beauty of my people.”
In Strong Unrelenting Spirits, Jones, who is a Professor of Photography at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, effortlessly weds past cultural modes of representation with present ones to explore identity and geographic place. His subjects wear a mix of contemporary and traditional dress, and range in age and identity from an infant to an elder, a Marine Corps veteran to a young male drum dancer in full regalia, a little girl grasping feathers to a handsome tattooed man wearing a chef ’s apron. Viewed collectively, Jones’ portraits create a narrative of Ho-Chunk identity that reveals its beauty and complexity.