In 2005, I founded a photography program for young people on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota, USA. In this ongoing program, my students and I are all subjects of each other’s work. Our favorite locations are the fields and abandoned buildings on the fringes of town, forgotten places thick with the past that lend themselves to imaginary games and textured photographs. Children have a unique ability to experience love, joy, and pain simultaneously, without compartmentalizing their experiences. I aim to convey this complexity. My images explore play as a vehicle through which youth reveal and negotiate the forces in their lives. Empowered by the safety of their small town, children explore freely and develop a community of young people that operates largely without adult intervention. I have chosen to focus on children’s relationships with their environment and with each other, because it is an essential part of life on the reservation that is often overlooked by both residents and outsiders.
When I became a mother, my relationship to this project and place shifted. I see the other children’s struggles and triumphs reflected in my daughter. The kids that I photographed over the course of 12 years are now adults and old friends. Our children play together, and my daughter now appears in our images. I photograph my daughter as an insider, as her mother, in a context where, despite close friendships, we are still outsiders.