Jerry Swope

Living in Two Worlds
Location: Burlington, Vermont
Nationality: American
Biography:   Jerry Swope is an associate professor in the department of media studies, journalism and digital arts at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont where he teaches courses in photojournalism, media literacy, digital design and... MORE
Public Story
Living in Two Worlds
Copyright Jerry Swope 2022
Updated Jul 2014
Topics Documentary, Lakota, Native American, Photography, Pine Ridge

Living in Two Worlds is an ongoing photography project that explores the ways in which members of the Oglala Lakota Nation on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota balance their traditional culture in the modern world.  Too often, stories in the mainstream media emphasize the negative aspects of life on the reservation. This essay focuses on the positive aspects of ceremony in everyday Lakota life.

Prior to becoming a college professor and a freelance photographer, I spent five years living and working on the reservation.  I taught high school photography and journalism classes at Red Cloud Indian School a few miles north of the town of Pine Ridge.  During this time I developed lifelong friendships, and I learned a tremendous amount about Lakota culture--about faith, generosity and fortitude.  My eyes and heart were open to the raw contradictions of life on the reservation.  And for the past 19 years, with opened eyes and an open heart, these lessons and experiences have guided my life and work.

While living on the reservation, I was constantly frustrated by stories in the mainstream media about American Indians and the Lakota in particular.  The limiting portrayals did not accurately reflect the nuanced realities of the lives of the people I knew.  Most articles focused only on the negative aspects of life: the poverty; the alcoholism; the violence.  I was disheartened by how these stories perpetuated limiting stereotypes, angered my friends and affected the self-esteem of my students.

Living in Two Worlds began as a way to show another side of Lakota life-- a side overlooked by the mainstream media.  The photography part of this project started in earnest in 2001 as a requirement for my master’s degree.   Although I moved away from the reservation in 2002, I continue to visit almost every summer to see friends, photograph and participate in ceremonies. 

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