The Concept behind the Pocahontas Portraits

Pocahontas Spirit

I always thought Pocahontas was a very interesting Disney character.

She’s a free spirit and a Native American. She is depicted as strong and feminine, but the real story behind Pocahontas is not as spirited and lively as she is made out to be. There are many accounts of the legend of Pocahontas based on John Smith’s letters and experiences, but there is no consensus for the true story.

Her story begins with a false name. Pocahontas is a nickname meaning the “naughty one” or the “spoiled one”, and her real name was Matoaka. It is unclear if she actually saved John Smith because the release of the letter John Smith wrote about Pocahontas was after her death. The letter stating the occurrence of events related to saving him goes as follows,

Two great stones were brought before Powhatan: then as many as could laid hands on him [Smith], dragged him to them, and thereon laid his head, and being ready with their clubs, to beat out his brains, Pocahontas the Kings dearest daughter, when no entreaty could prevail, got his head in her arms, and laid her own upon his to save him from death.”

Scholars believe either the claim is true or that it is falsified evidence to further instigate that there was an intimate relationship between John Smith and Pocahontas. Pocahontas actually was held captive in Jamestown for a year and would only be released if she married John Rolfe. A few years later, Pocahontas died from illness at age 21. It was led to believe that she gained the illness from her captivity in Jamestown or the unfamiliarity of another country affected her greatly.

Although this account of Pocahontas is what is written in history books, I did not want my photo shoot to be tragic or gloomy. I decided to focus on the vividness of the culture and the depiction of Pocahontas from the Disney film instead. I wanted to make the song “Colors of the Wind” come alive in my photos and offer some light of the spirituality of the character and morale. The song itself, focuses on raising awareness of the Euro-centrism of John Smith in the Native world of Pocahontas. Stephen Schwartz, the man who wrote the song for the film, used Native American poetry and imagery to make the song come alive and strongly influence the direction of the film. Seeing how feathers were a signifier of Native American culture and how white war paint symbolizes purity and light, I thought it would be wise to incorporate these elements into the photos.

Feathers

The forest I chose also shaped the symbolism well and introduced new composition elements for my portraiture.

Sources:

Article on Pocahontas

Another Account of her Story

Colors of the Wind Dissected

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