participate in the missions’ spiritual activities.

At Thunderbird House, the treatment center for Native American alcoholics, I photographed the Sacred Circle. Once a week the counselors and clients who attended would pass the burning sage and the eagle feather. The ceremony was based on what they knew of an older, naturalistic Indian belief, salvaged from the time before the Christian missionaries arrived. I photographed at Thunderbird for a couple of years before doing the work in this book. Religious beliefs and practices were always around there, but on the periphery. At most of the missions they were front and center, and I noticed the difference.

What began as a photographic study of alcoholism and Native Americans became a study of religion and hierarchy. What began as an exercise in conventional photojournalism became an exploration of new ways of visually representing my understanding of social life. What follows is the story of those transformations.