Art Photographer Places Focus on Native American Talent

Thosh Collins has photographed Hollywood stars, New York Fashion Week designs, and Miss Universe pageant contestants, but has not yet been recognized in the mainstream media.

In fact, many Native Americans like Collins struggle to become visible despite major achievements. But he set out to change this reality in 2006 while living in Los Angeles.

“I started doing headshot photography and assisting in shoots. I started meeting other [Native] people in the industry and wanted to help promote them,” he said. “There’s so many people that played a role in making me think I need to put us on the map more.”

In this year’s Fashion Week, designer Sho Sho Esquiro showcased her couture line inspired by traditional Native elements and the Mexican Day of the Dead celebration. Collins photographed the clothing and shared it with various publications that profiled Esquiro.

Collins, a member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa County community, a sovereign tribe in Phoenix, AZ, said he has a particular interest in fashion and entertainment.

“So I’m using photography to show the different talent of native people in modern terms aside from the stereotype of being depicted as something of the past,” he said. “We are a part of mainstream society and just blend in.”

But Collins pointed out it’s crucial to put a spotlight on prominent Native American figures.

“It’s important to see our own people become successful because of historical trauma affecting communities,” he said. “ We’re starting to see communities heal and do well.”

Collins cares about physical healing as well. He recently caught the attention of Nike by using the N7 line sneakers and Native American models in a campaign promoting exercise and wellness.

“I’m trying to paint a new picture of what a healthy native person looks like,” he said, adding that Nike is currently talking to him about doing some shoots for the company.

To further dive into Collins’ mind, Fusion selected some of his stunning photography and asked him to share the significance of each image.

Ashley Callingbull

Miss Universe Canada, Ashley Callingbull, models fashion that reappropriates Native icons.
“Feminist. I see a female that’s portrayed in a very masculine way. It’s very representative of the strength of aboriginal Native American women.”

Wild Horses on a Reservation

Part of his series of Mother Earth photos: wild horses run free on a reservation.
“I think of land preservation. A community who values preserving the original mother earth and not using it for commercial development.”

Native American Young Man

A young Native American man showcases symbolic attire.
“A buffalo. This is about how young native men are embracing the modern with traditional Native American values and sort of expressing that in a modern form. He’s the dude in the ‘Rock Your Mocs’ video.”

Fashion by Sho Sho Esquiro

A Native woman models Sho Sho Esquiro’s Fashion Week designs.
“That’s a nice one. That’s one that was a modern and avant garde expression of an indigenous concept with Sho Sho Esquiro. That designer was inspired by one of their Kaska Dena tribe’s creation stories, from the Yukon. It’s the beauty of the traditional moral value being represented in a modern expression.”

Sweet grass and Native Drum
Part of the Mother Earth series: this is an artistic capture of Native icons.
“That’s sweet grass on top of a drum. It’s a type of herb that we burn for spiritual, emotional cleansing. It can also be used for physical healing by putting it in teas. It’s what I like to call ‘traditional medicinal.’”