The before and after photographs of Thomas Moore Keesick—known widely by his Anglicized name, Thomas Moore—are some of the most iconic and prolific images signifying Canada’s dark legacy of Indian Residential Schools. Taken in the 1890s and appearing in an 1896 Department of Indian Affairs Annual Report, the photos were originally meant to demonstrate Keesick’s successful assimilation through the Regina Indian Industrial School. Assuming an archaeological approach to photography, this article argues that the images of Keesick were not just brute expressions of a powerful colonizing influence (as they are now understood), but desperate attempts by insecure institutions seeking legitimacy as part of a broader colonial apparatus. In many contemporary uses, audiences take these images for granted as a sign of unfettered colonial power. Contemporary critiques that mobilize the photos to illustrate the power of colonization with little historical situating are reductive in their treatment of colonial institutions as homogenous. We attempt to nuance contemporary and historical uses of Keesick’s images to ask how photographic and interpretive practices forward strikingly similar understandings of the images across time, without considering the conventions under which they were originally constructed. Finally, we explore instances of radical resituating to illustrate how recontextualizations of the Keesick images can encourage new ways of seeing and interrogating them.

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Journal Topia. Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies
Brady, M, & Hiltz, Emily. (2017). The Archaeology of an Image: The Persistent Persuasion of Thomas Moore Keesick’s Residential School Photographs. Topia. Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies, Spring 2017(37).

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