Photographer Mark Manley said of his visit to the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation last September during the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) protests, that the area is divided racially—Native Americans and Caucasians live there but have a long history of antagonism.
Manley’s documentary-style collection of photographs, “Standing Up: Moments from a Movement,” which were taken during his two trips to Standing Rock, was on display in the Chester Art Gallery from April 4th to the 28th, and he also gave a lecture to NEC students on Thursday, April 13th.
Hosted by Professor of Art/Director of Chester Art Gallery Darryl Furtkamp, Professor of Art History Inez McDermott, and Professor of Art Jay Bordage, at this lecture Manley discussed with students what they’d heard about Standing Rock, and showed a collaborative documentary video about his collection and visit to the reservation.
Most of you probably already know a thing or two about the Standing Rock protests (#NODAPL) from all the media coverage, or all that’s been posted on Facebook, but for those who aren’t familiar, Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, located on the line of North and South Dakota by the Cannon Ball River, has long been protesting the installation of the 1,172-mile DAPL, according to Mother Jones’ Wes Enzinna. The company installing it, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), despite all the controversy that’s sprung up regarding it’s placement underneath Lake Oahe, which supplies water to the reservation, at present is nearing its completion.
The DAPL was about 90% installed when Manley, who lives in N.Y.C. where he graduated from the International Center of Photography with a degree in documentary and photojournalism, first arrived at Standing Rock in September of 2016. There protesters of varying backgrounds gathered in the three camps: the first to be set up, on land along the river owned by Sioux Activist LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, was Sacred Stone then later came Rosebud and Oceti Sakowin, which was nearest the bridge occupied by the oil company. The main protests took place near this bridge, where burned out vehicles and armored guards prohibited passage.
Manley was no longer there during the bridge incident where police blasted protesters with water in late November. He told students, “I saw acts of intimidation. I saw the authorities behave in threatening ways. But I didn’t see any actual physical violence.”
The images from his trip were compelling and varied.
“I was struck by the diversity of the folks who were there, but also the unity,” Manley said, “and it dawned on me as I was waiting for dinner one night that the chow line was kind of the visual representation of those things.”
When he noticed this, Manley approached people in the line, one-by-one, and asked if he could take their picture. Then he asked them to take a minute and think about what it meant for them to be here in this moment in time and while they contemplated he took their photo. Manley never asked them to share their thoughts, and they rarely did, but each individual had a different expression.
The weather had changed by the time Manley returned for his second visit to the reservation just after Thanksgiving. He photographed several tents covered in snow—abandoned by those who couldn’t brace the cold.
Manley stayed until the first week of December, the same week the number of protesters rose, according to Enzinna of Mother Jones, to 15,000 “water protectors” including 4,000 veterans.
It was on February 23rd, one day after the Standing Rock camp was forcibly disbanded, that Furtkamp said he first extended an invitation to Mark to host his lecture at NEC. McDermott had been friends with Manley from their time at Marlboro College together, but then after reconnecting with him on Facebook a few years back, she saw his new collection and became interested in displaying it at the art gallery.
“I was impressed by their [the photos of Standing Rock] beauty and the story they told,” McDermott said. “I took a closer look at more of his work on his website and was even more impressed.” That’s when she asked Jay Bordage and Darryl Furtkamp to take a look, and they agreed about inviting him to display the collection.
The exhibition, Furtkamp said, was student-driven: his Senior Exhibition Course was deeply involved with the selection, curation, and design. Students reviewed all Mark’s images, selected groups of images, edited works, designed appropriate placement for works, made preparations, and hung the expedition, as the gallery is a working lab that allows students to partake in the ongoing concerns, deliberations, and practical considerations of gallery operations.
During this collaborative process, students communicated through Drop Box with Mark, who made regular trips from N.Y.C. to the gallery between February and April.
“We were impressed with the aesthetic quality of Mark’s work,” McDermott said, “but we also felt that themes in Mark’s work—especially the themes of concern for the environment and an exploration of the power and logistics of a mass civil protest—are in keeping with NEC’s commitments to studying various aspects of our Natural and Civic Environment.”
Chester Art Gallery did, at first, have another exhibition scheduled for the spring’s slot—St. Louis and Chicago-based figurative painter, David Ottinger, which they postponed to a later date due to the timeliness and relevancy of Manley’s subject.
Those working to host the exhibition had originally hoped it would help advance Mark’s efforts to reach a greater audience, and the plan was for a gofundme site to raise money for Mark’s to return to Standing Rock this summer. It’s anticipated the standoff will continue there. But unfortunately, due to the issue having been in the media for some time now, engaging the public’s participation in this has become more challenging. Regardless, Mark’s images and lecture resonated with students, Furtkamp said. “… it struck me as an exhibition whose social consciousness theme was important precisely because it could address those larger issues that our collective conscience was struggling with post the November Presidential election (the future of public lands and abutters, isolation of minority voices and issues, the nature of collaborative and peaceful opposition, etc.).”
Obama had placed a stay on the production of the pipeline on Dec. 4th, according to Enzinna, and the Army Corps of Engineer’s announced a two-year environmental review process was to occur before ETP could continue any installation in the area, but this was withdrawn by Trump on Jan. 24th. (It’s important to note that ETP’s CEO contributed to Trump’s election campaign, and Trump owned shares in one of its investors, Phillips 66, as well as stocks in DAPL, which he claims are now sold, though no records released corroborate this.) Trump pressured the Army Corps of Engineers in an executive order that stated it should “review and approve [the Dakota Access Pipeline] in an expedited manner.”
Despite this, the Standing Rock Sioux aren’t planning on giving up. The Tribe posted on their Facebook page on April 19th: “DAPL may be fully functioning starting May 14, but that doesn’t mean that our fight ends.”
“We’re going to try to stop the oil from flowing,” wrote Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Chairman Dave Archambault. “We’re going to build awareness about the investors, the lenders, the banks, the financial institutions who fund projects like this and who fund companies like Energy Transfer Partners.”
Later that evening, the tribe posted an EcoWatch article, which highlighted their concerns, as another ETP-installed pipeline, Rover Pipeline, had just spilled millions of gallons of drilling fluid into Ohio wetlands only one month after it’s construction had begun.
Manley said what first inspired him to go to Standing Rock was that it seemed historic. “It seemed that a multitude of social issues were converging there… And that a diverse group of people were joining together and building a unified community to respond to these issues. That seemed
historic and might provide insights for the country at large on making progress on these social issues in a collaborative and non-violent way. I wanted to document that.”