John Willis

John Willis received his MFA in photography from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1986. Willis is the Professor of Photography at Marlboro College and co-founder of The In-Sight Photography Project offering courses to southern Vermont area youth regardless of their ability to pay. He also co-founded In-Sight’ Exposures Cross Cultural Youth Arts Program, bringing youth together from a wide variety of backgrounds to share photography lessons and life stories. Today we share his series titled, Views from the Reservation.


BIA Route 44, 2005


Veteran’s Honor Guard At The Graduation Powwow, Oglala Lakota College, 2005


The Mass Gravesite At Wounded Knee From The Massacre Of 1890, 2002


Bureau Of Indian Affairs (BIA) Route 18, 2005


Anna Diaz And Ashley Phelps, Allen Community Powwow, 2003


The Merrival Family’s Buffalo Ranch, 2004

Views from the Reservation

As an outsider, I do not presume to be able to do more than scratch  the surface or to comprehend the realities of the Lakota people in the most  finite way. And I am very thankful for the other voices in this book—from  Kent Nerburn to the Lakota people—who provide additional views of this  special culture and place. They have taught me much and nothing more  important than the understanding that all things are related and require  our humble respect.

When thinking of the Pine Ridge Reservation, what do people imagine?  What are the preconceived notions that outsiders carry about the place, the  people, the culture, and their way of life? Pine Ridge is the Oglala Lakota  Tribe’s home, a territory that once covered an area from Minnesota west to  the sacred Black Hills (Paha Sapa) of southwestern South Dakota and eastern Wyoming. Today, the reservation has been reduced to approximately  fifty by 100 miles. Both outsiders and native peoples know of Hollywood’s  representation of traditional American Indian culture. So often it has been  based on the Lakota and other indigenous tribes of the Great Plains and In- terior West. Most of us have heard of the problems with alcoholism, poverty, and gangs on the reservations, of the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, and  the occupation by the American Indian Movement and its supporters of  Wounded Knee in 1973. But how much do most of us really know? 

I have come to know my Lakota friends as family. This book is intended to be for them and for all Lakota people as a wopila, a gift back for  all they have given me through who they are and their willingness to be so  welcoming. I feel deeply indebted to them for reminding me what is truly  important in life. May life become easier for them while they are able to  hold on to their culture, dignity, and pride.  


New Deal Mural, Pine Ridge High School, 2004


Victoria Chipps, Of The Horn Chipps Lineage Of Medicine Men, On Her Ninetieth Birthday With Her Great Grand-Daughter, 2005


Vern Sitting Bear And His Niece’s Pet Wolf, 2004


Sunka Wakan Na Wakanyeja Awicaglip (To Bring Back The Horse And Child) 2004


New Year’s Day, Duane Reddest’s Home, Lost Dog Creek, 2002


Allen Housing, 2005


Potato Creek, 2005


Checking the Laundry, 2001


Eugene And His Adopted Daughter, Victoria, 1993


Leroy’s Cabin, Lost Dog Creek, 2001


Mount Rushmore National Monument, Where The Faces Of Four U.S. Presidents Are Carved Or, As Many Native People Say, Scarred Into The Sacred Black Hills (Paha Sapa). 2007

Willis is a recipient of a 2011 John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. His work is included in numerous permanent collections including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, The Bibliotheque Nationale de France, The George Eastman House Museum, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, The Houston Museum of Fine Arts, Portland Museum of Art, The Library of Congress, and, The National Museum of Native Americans. His work has been exhibited nationally and internationally including solo exhibitions at: The Stark Gallery in NYC, Blue Sky Gallery in Portland Oregon, Photographic Resource Center, Boston MA, and the Oglala Lakota College. John’s collaborative book project with photographer Tom Young, “Recycled Realities” was co-published by the Center of American Places and Columbia College in 2005. Willis’ second book Views From The Reservation was also published by the Center for American Places and Columbia College in 2010.

To view more of John’s work please visit his website.