(Updated) One image shows armed U.S. marshals surrounding the town of Wounded Knee in 1973. Other photographs offer contemporary portraits of American Indians, tattooed or in traditional dress, in South Dakota and Washington state.
While the content of the pictures—found Wednesday in a driveway in East Rock—is clear, the identity of the photographer was a mystery, until Saturday. That’s when Officer Paul Kenney got a call from photographer Owen Luck, who was looking for his lost photos.
The images are part of a collection of 11x14-inch photographs that were discovered Wednesday in front of 22 Lincoln St., near the corner of Bradley Street in East Rock. Officer Kenney was heading up the search for the owner of the photographs, which are organized in plastic sleeves in five binders inside a professional portfolio case.
That case was stolen from Luck’s car on Wednesday morning, the photographer said on Saturday.
Kenney (pictured), a 22-year veteran cop assigned to East Rock, was the officer who picked up the photos after the owner of 22 Lincoln discovered the open case in her driveway Wednesday. The thief seems to have snatched the case from Luck’s car, then abandoned it as worthless.
The photos are far from worthless. They represent a body of serious photographic work stretching from 1973 to 2005: photos of American Indians on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota and a Makah reservation in Neah Bay, Wash. The black-and-white photos comprise intimate portraits and documentary photographs of daily life and special events on the reservations.
The first binder to catch Kenney’s eye, he said, was the one marked “Pine Ridge, 1973.” That’s the one that contains pages of photos from the “Wounded Knee Incident,” when members of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seized control of the town of Wounded Knee for 71 days in 1973. The photos seemed to be insider images of armed AIM members holding meetings, along with images of the U.S. marshals who cordoned off the town.
The other binders in the portfolio hold more contemporary images. One binder has no label. The others are marked “Pine Ridge 2000-03”, “Neah Bay 2004” and “Neah Bay 2005,” referring to a spot on the coast of Washington. Based on the clothes and cars in the binders, the photos in all the binders except the Pine Ridge one were taken in the last decade.
On Friday, before the owner was located, Kenney said it’s clear that the photographer was in the thick of it during the Wounded Knee Incident, documenting an important historical moment. “This guy was there.”
Working on that assumption, Kenney assumed the photographer was in his or her 60s. He was right.
“I’m 63,” Luck said on Saturday, after he spent over an hour chatting with Kenney.
In a phone conversation, he shared the story behind the pictures:
“I was a photojournalist in the ‘70s,” Luck said. The photos in the “Pine Ridge, 1973” are from his coverage of the Wounded Knee Incident for the Sigma photo agency.
Later, after discovering there was no money in photojournalism, Luck went into making TV commercials. He was able to retire from that at age 50, and returned to photographing. He first went back to Pine Ridge, in 2000, and spent a few summers making pictures out there. But life on the rez was “just a bit too depressing.” He moved on to the Pacific Northwest, and began photographing tribes on the coast.
Now he spends his summers in the Pacific Northwest and his winters in the darkroom. He lives in Blooming Grove, N.Y.
“My work is mostly collected here at Yale,” Luck said. The Beinecke library has archived about 500 of his images of American Indians.
Luck is in the middle of a month at Yale on a research fellowship, pursuing his interest in history. He’s been staying at a guest house on Bradley Street. That’s where his car was broken into. The thief grabbed his portfolio of work prints—not final gallery prints—and his Sirius satellite radio.
His first reaction to the loss of his pictures? “This is going to be the biggest pain in the ass, reprinting all this stuff.”
Then he checked his email late Friday night. He found a message from George Miles, the curator of Western American at the Beinecke. Someone had seen the article in the Independent, emailed Miles, and Miles emailed Luck.
“I clicked on the link,” Luck said, and saw photos of his photos in the police station.
He called the station Saturday and was connected to Kenney. They’re going to meet up in a couple days to collect his work from the police station’s property room.
“He’s a really good cop,” Luck said. “We talked for over an hour.”
Kenney, it turns out, is a history buff just like Luck. The photographer said he was impressed by the cop’s extensive knowledge of the Revolutionary War. He plans to take Kenney over to the Beinecke and show him some of the 300-year-old books he’s been reading.
Read other installments in the Independent’s “Cop of the Week” series:
• Shafiq Abdussabur
• Lloyd Barrett
• Maneet Bhagtana
• Paul Bicki
• Scott Branfuhr
• Dennis Burgh
• Sydney Collier
• David Coppola
• Roy Davis
• Joe Dease
• Milton DeJesus
• Brian Donnelly
• Anthony Duff
• Bertram Etienne
• Paul Finch
• Jeffrey Fletcher
• Renee Forte
• Marco Francia
• William Gargone
• William Gargone & Mike Torre
• Derek Gartner
• Jon Haddad & Daniela Rodriguez
• Dan Hartnett
• Ray Hassett
• Robin Higgins
• Ronnell Higgins
• Racheal Inconiglios
• Hilda Kilpatrick
• Peter Krause
• Amanda Leyda
• Anthony Maio
• Steve McMorris
• Stephanie Redding
• Tony Reyes
• Luis & David Rivera
• Salvador Rodriguez
• Brett Runlett
• David Runlett
• Marcus Tavares
• Martin Tchakirides
• Stephan Torquati
• Gene Trotman Jr.
• Kelly Turner
• Lars Vallin (& Xander)
• John Velleca
• Alan Wenk
• Michael Wuchek
• David Zannelli
• David Zaweski
(To suggest an officer to be featured, contact us here.)