Forum Magazine, Spring 2017

Page 26


The stories of five individuals featured in Jenny Irene Miller’s groundbreaking photography series. Continuous, in their own words. By Aurora Ford Photos by Jenny Irene Miller


Jenny Irene Miller made her first pho-

tography series when she was seven years old using the Polaroid camera she’d inherited two years earlier when her great-grandmother passed away. A couple of decades later, her love of telling stories through photography has led to her groundbreaking portraiture series Continuous, featuring individuals from Alaska’s Two Spirit community. Miller received a 2016 Alaska Humanities Forum general grant for the project, and her photos were exhibited in the Forum’s lobby gallery earlier this year. The portraits contain a common thread of mostly stark backgrounds, in spite of the ready availability of picturesque landscapes in Alaska. The result is effective. The human at the center of the portrait stands out, not the space they’re taking up. “I think a lot of that comes from growing up in Nome where it’s often overcast,” says Miller. “I do

T O K E E P R E C E I V I N G F O R U M M A G A Z I N E, P L E A S E S E E PA G E 19

like a kind of stale background that makes the person really pop out. And I’m a huge fan of that deadpan photography.” The term “Two Spirit” was adopted in the early 1990s at a gathering of gay and lesbian indigenous North Americans to describe LGBTQ Alaska Natives and Native Americans. The original Two Spirit concept has been around far longer. There are many different specific terms for Two Spirit people in North American indigenous languages. Evidence that, historically, Two Spirit people were not only accepted and sometimes revered is present in more than 150 different indigenous cultural groups throughout the continent. Today, use of the Two Spirit term by indigenous LGBTQ people expands its meaning, while offering a connection to cultural heritage that was devastated by the forced introduction of Christianity following