Stunning Photos Portraying Native American Life

Stunning Photos Portraying Native American Life

In the early 1900s, photographer Edward S. Curtis set out on an epic mission: to capture the experiences of Native Americans throughout the American West. Over the span of 30 years, Curtis documented more than 80 tribes west of the Mississippi, from the Mexican border to northern Alaska.

After decades of work (funded by financier J.P. Morgan), Curtis and his field team ended up with more than 40,000 photographs, 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Native American music and stories, and stacks of notes and sketches. The collections were compiled into a 20-volume set of books, titled The North American Indian. 

Blackfoot Encampment, 1899

On The Road, 1990

Out Of The Darkness, 1899

Evening On The Sound, 1899

Navajo Blanket Weavers, 1904

Sheep Mountain, 1905

The Scout, 1906

Housetop Life, 1906

The photographs command respect for a group of people that had been marginalized over the span of the 19th century. But the work has also been met with criticism. Some have argued the photos, many of which were staged, present a romanticized version of Native American life—by a white photographer.

By the time Curtis approached various tribes, their way of life had already been forcibly changed by U.S. government policies, so he staged many of the photos. Curtis had his subjects dress in traditional clothing that most no longer wore. And he photographed people in settings seemingly untouched by time—sometimes even altering photos to remove modern artifacts from view. 
As art historian Shannon Egan argues, Curtis may have been driven to preserve what the photographer described as a “vanishing race,” but his staged photos “suppressed the plight of the ‘real’ Indians and replaced it with a narrative of Indianness that served the artistic and political needs of an Anglo-American culture.”

The images of Native American tribes captured by Curtis and his team may present an idealized perspective, but the work has nonetheless been celebrated for the beauty of the images and their documentary value.


Doug Cruickshank

What a wonderful world it must have been back then.

Trenae Hanaya

I am overwhelmed with enthusiasm when I see such meaningful hx! How beautiful it is to see such cultural traditions ❤️

Teresa Fields

I like to know more

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.