Stephen Hunt's art exhibition took a drastic amount of whittling.
Hunt, who lives in the Mission Valley, is a social worker by trade, busy with his two daughters, and hunting, fishing, picking berries, riding horses and going to powwows.
He's also an avid photographer, and documented that bustling family life along with outdoor scenes in some 16,000 photographs over the years.
The 33-year-old, whose background is Blackfeet, Nez Perce, Sioux, Pend d’Oreille, and Chippewa Cree, cut that trove down to around 35 pictures for "Kitawaahsinnoon/The Land That Feeds Us," which wraps up its showing at the Missoula Art Museum on Dec. 8.
"It's an inside look at what Native families truly live like in the contemporary world," Hunt said.
Some of the most ubiquitous representations of indigenous people are still those of Edward S. Curtis, whose iconic early 20th century images veer toward romanticism, with regalia, dress and stern expressions. Yet viewers "never see the intimate moments that we have, or the way that we live in contemporary settings," Hunt said.
He also hopes that his photographs break stereotypes about alcoholism, drug abuse and poverty.
"That's the thing we unfortunately run into all the time, because our history is not told by us, it's told by other people," he said. People in Missoula might be surprised by his experiences "going to that town or coming off the reservation, but we get followed around in stores all the time, no matter how we're dressed."
"Things haven't really changed for us, so I feel like allowing people an inside look at who we really are is breaking stereotypes for some people, or it has the power to," he said.
In 2016, the MAM was awarded a $100,000 grant from the Warhol Foundation to support exhibitions in its Frost Gallery, its dedicated space for contemporary work by indigenous artists.
MAM senior curator Brandon Reintjes said part of that grant included outreach, including looking for Native artists off their radar.
Hunt was suggested by his former teacher David Spear, who leads a photography program at Two Eagle River School in Pablo and is an instructor at Salish Kootenai College.
Reintjes said one of the landscapes, "Stoyii/Winter-Cold," spurred an interest in Hunt's vantage point. It was a scene of birch forest in a classic black-and-white style with strong value range. It resembles the work of Ansel Adams, who was one of Hunt's earliest and longest-lasting influences.
The title of Hunt's forest scene alluded to a Blackfeet story, and Reintjes learned that Hunt sometimes shoots the landscape with heritage in mind. Another image depicts a prayer rock (and carefully avoids including anything regarding a location).
Landscapes, like "Ninaastakoh Painting/Chief Mountain," "Land of the Goats," and "Mistahkiiks," depict mountains and ranges.
Reintjes pointed out the sharp angles that Hunt chooses, and his decision to include portions of his vantage point in the foreground rather than crop them out.
"You're in the midst of the landscape, you're walking through it or you're experiencing it or you're a part of it. It's not a separate thing. He's breaking down that separation with the photos," Reintjes said.
Hunt said he asks himself, "How I could portray the feeling I felt while I was on top of that mountain at almost 10,000 feet? What does it feel like? What would it be like to have a photo of someone understand the little details that were there? I feel like without the moss and the rocks and stuff there it would just be a picture of a bunch of ridges."
The other half of the MAM show is given over to family pictures. In the earliest pictures, his daughters were around 7 or 8. In one photo, they're lying down in a tepee with the family dog. In other pictures, they're digging for roots, drying meat, painting, and getting ready for a powwow with their mother. The kids are now 14 and 12.
The only posed image in the show depicts a friend, dressed in full regalia, performing the grass dance, which originated with the Northern Plains tribes, in a field of grass. He liked the idea of taking "a photo that told the story and gave credit to the origins of where that came from [and] put it back into context."
This is Hunt's first solo exhibition. In the future, he'd like to pursue pictures like the grass dance, perhaps one crediting the origins of the Chicken Dance. He sees more ideas ahead in of his photos that was picked for a show now up at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts called "Cit.i.zen.ship: Reflections on Rights."
He photographed one of his daughters behind bars, as an allusion to the wave of missing and murdered indigenous women, broken treaties and oppression. He wanted the photo in the MAM show, but "it didn't fit the context of the room," he said, describing it as "too loud."
Another image, shot in Canada, shows the standing frames of sweatlodges. He called it "Kanaatsoomitaa/Brave Dog," after the Blackfoot's Brave Dog Society, who guarded camps. He shot the photo while in Canada for a powwow. He was carefully framing his picture when a friend's dog wandered into the picture.
"I felt like that was a fortuitous moment, because it dawned on me that those were Brave Dog sweats and how odd is it that that dog came over there. That dog completely filled the context of that picture," he said. Different people have different interpretations, he said, but any Blackfoot who sees it will get it immediately.
He felt the same about the first photo inside the gallery entryway: a close-up of a cup of mint tea, a staple drink.
He was trying to capture a feeling from his childhood — a house full of relatives singing and drinking tea.
"Any Blackfoot who would walk in there and see that could literally" smell the tea, he said.