Photographer Josue Rivas On Portraying Indigenous Resilience
Film by Syd Woodward, Article by Lauren Jones.
Josué Rivas wasn’t always drawn to photography. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Now his camera acts as an extension of his arm as he builds a career around making impactful images that share the story of Indigenous peoples, inspired by his own life experiences.
“In my twenties, I found a camera and used it as a way to connect with those in the shadows of society, and in a way it was also healing for me.” Some of Rivas’ most powerful pictures come from the seven months he spent at Standing Rock in North Dakota during the opposition to the Dakota Access Pipe Line. He was there from the moment people started coming into the camp until the movement was militarized and participants were arrested. Led by Indigenous peoples, the gathering at Standing Rock was something that he describes as an awakening. “You could see the pride on their faces,” he says. “Even though they knew they were going to be removed or arrested, they still had this [unwavering] courage.”
In one image, a group walks away as the camp burns alongside an upside-down American flag. “Indigenous peoples have endured a lot and it’s something I’ve carried with me,” he says. As a creative, Rivas feels like it’s his duty to be mindful and sensitive to the media he creates and to continue to tell the story of Indigenous peoples. “So much art is created when there was no consent in it,” he says. “A lot of times imagery of Indigenous peoples are used in fashion or in film or you see characters referencing us.”
Rivas refrains from using terms such as “shoot”, “capture”, or “take” when talking about photography, as those words were embedded into the language of colonization over Indigenous peoples. For Rivas, it’s not so much about the end product, but also how the art is created. In an era of cultural appropriation, it’s people like himself that are working to eliminate that cultural disconnect. “We are now the ones telling our own stories,” he says.“It’s the reclamation of our narrative.”