Aaron Huey
“I think great photography…wakes up people to the diversity of the world and to the lives that are so different than our own.”external image Huey-headshot1-258x300.jpg


Aaron Huey is an American photojournalist and documentary photographer who was born on December 5, 1975 and raised in Worland, Wyoming. His long and accomplished list of publications has earned him global recognition and praise. His wandering sense of adventure has led him to places all around the world including Afghanistan, Haiti, Mali, Siberia, Yemen and French Polynesia. His travels have given him the opportunity to photograph a very diverse set of subjects from sharks to the Afghan drug war.

However, Huey is more than a talented, successful professional with an impeccable eye and knack for taking photographs. Huey is a committed advocate for Native American rights. He fell into this role rather accidentally, but now regards this advocacy as his most meaningful and important work. In 2005, Huey started a photo essay on “Poverty in America” and this assignment took him to the poorest county in the United States, Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in Pine Ridge, South Dakota. His time and experiences on Pine Ridge with the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe changed him. He stopped simply taking photographs to publicize them or to capture the best most beautiful photo. He stepped out from behind his camera lens to find and unearth great atrocities and heartbreak on Pine Ridge by listening to the first-hand accounts of the people and immersing himself in their community. The stories he heard, the people he met, and the history he discovered inspired Huey to commit himself to a life advocating for Native American rights and justice.

He has since created a photography book called Mitakuye Oyasin that showcases and reflects on his experience on Pine Ridge with the Oglala Lakota Sioux. In August 2013 he also launched a national non-profit campaign, Honor the Treaties, which combines art with advocacy and awareness for Native American treaty rights.
Mural in Los Angeles, CA - Honor The Treaties Campaign
Mural in Los Angeles, CA - Honor The Treaties Campaign


Aaron Huey’s practices are photojournalism and documentary photography. Huey’s participation in and commitment to these practices opened up major opportunities for him including traveling to many different places, meeting many different people, and experiencing many different things. Huey’s practices allow him to be an engaged member of society seeing the world with all of its beauty as well as its flaws. Increased knowledge of the world often fosters an understanding and appreciation for its very diverse citizenry and rich history. Knowledge serves as an internal and often under recognized good of the practice of photojournalism and documentary photography. Knowledge is also a choice-worthy good of these practices. Photojournalism and documentary photography can expose one to a new way of seeing and knowing people and places. Huey was the recipient of these gains. Although the knowledge he gained came with the revelation of significant hardship, injustice, and heart wrench, it was knowledge nevertheless that made Huey a more informed and empathetic human being. Additional internal goods of the practices of photojournalism and documentary photography are an ability to inspire, enlighten, and story tell. Huey committed himself to doing more than taking a handful of pretty pictures to sell; instead he searched deeper and spent extended time in Pine Ridge to uncover why this community is so impoverished and suffering. With his vulnerable and committed approach to his practices, Huey was able to more fully know and understand the Lakota people, history, and their way of life, which then allowed him to share a more truthful story and enlighten so many people who are in the dark about Native American injustices.

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Personal and Institutional Challenge:
Huey had a very successful career in photojournalism and documentary photography early on his life. He was motivated at a young age to escape the small town he grew up in in Wyoming and by 18 years of age was living in Bratislava, Slovakia. His adventurous nature and passion to explore the world could not be fulfilled in Wyoming where his early life revolved around growing beets and barley. With further exploration of the world and a rapidly growing career and praise for his photography, came a few early significant challenges. Huey was given many incredible opportunities to travel the globe and photograph people and places for magazines like The National Geographic and The Smithsonian to name only a couple. However, he started to feel suppressed by media outlets simply yearning for a beautiful photograph or a story to sensationalize. He felt like a passerby in places he wanted to stay in and explore, but the agenda of a handful of media outlets he worked for motivated him to continue to work for them and for Huey himself so as to secure their own success and self-interested agendas. The media as an institution was therefore sacrificing the truth in some cases; the misrepresentation of people and places was possible and probable because the media’s goal was merely the product and not asking why or diving deeper beyond what a photo can externally capture. Huey felt personally challenged by this suppression in his early career and had trouble navigating the morality of an issue like this. For a while he continued to take “pretty photographs” and his personal career continued to grow and he received greater positive acclaim. However, in 2002 he felt called to go on a solo journey across America and for the first time he denied any access or media coverage to this trip. Huey walked 3,349 miles with his dog Cosmo and spent time in fascinating places, built relationships with people along the way, and experienced a wide range of activities, cultures, and traditions across hundreds of different communities and cities in the U.S. - he did all of this without the pressures of the media or anyone's agenda.
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Cultural Challenge:


Aaron Huey has been traveling back and forth from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota for over seven years now. His commitment to this community has been strong, but also challenging. The more he looked beyond his camera lens and the landscape of this community, the more injustice he discovered. Huey reveals in a documentary and in his Ted Talk that Pine Ridge is a place of great suffering and that the Lakota natives are “a people that lost so that we could gain.” The U.S. relationship with the indigenous like the Lakota of Pine Ridge has historically been one of aggression, control, abuse and mistreatment. Hundreds of broken treaties reflect the historic and systemically imbedded injustice and mistreatment of Native Americans in America. Another major injustice is the silence and suppression of the reality of suffering on Pine Ridge. Indigenous people like the Lakota are so secluded and the American government often suppresses their voices and their rights because of the very rocky relationship between the two peoples. Some people choose to ignore the rampant injustice of the Lakota and other Native Americans, but many simply do not know enough about the history and modern realities of the indigenous peoples. Huey is one inspiring leader who is dedicated to learning more about the hidden truths to share them and stand up for Native American rights and equality through art and advocacy projects. He has faced resistance, his intentions have been challenged, and he has endured the obstacles of being an outsider, but Huey has remained passionate and committed to advocating for justice on Pine Ridge and other Indian reservations. Huey came to an epiphany through this work and challenge that it was not about himself or his agenda or what the media wants to show, it’s about the truth, it’s about the Lakota, and it’s about their voice and stories being justly shared and advocated for.

Aaron Huey’s work and behavior reflect his strong adherence to and possession of the virtues of patience and truth. Huey’s patience is most strongly conveyed through his unwavering commitment to the Lakota and to learning and listening to their stories despite their sometimes critical judgments of him. Huey’s work also reflects his commitment to conveying the truth and advocating for justice regardless of obstacles or oppressive forces that
hinder his ability to do so.

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By: Gretta Schaaf

"Aaron Huey." AARON HUEY IS A PHOTOGRAPHER. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. http://www.aaronhuey.com/.

HONOR THE TREATIES." Honor the Treaties. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. http://www.honorthetreaties.org/.

Aaron Huey: America's Native Prisoners of War." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. http://www.ted.com/talks/aaron_huey.html.

"LightBox." LightBox. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. http://lightbox.time.com/2013/05/28/why-we-look-again-aaron-huey-at-pine-ridge/.

Aaron Huey." - Expert. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Nov. 2013. <http://www.nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/experts/aaron-huey/detail>.