Stunning Documentary Portraits of Native Americans from the Early 1900s


In 1906, etiologist and photographer Edward S. Curtis set out across the United States to draw, photograph and otherwise document the lives of Native Americans that hadn’t yet been contacted by Western society.

Funded by J.P. Morgan, he would return 20 years later with over 40,000 photographs, which he used to illustrate his famous 20 volume series “The North American Indian.” Only 222 complete sets were ever published (one of which sold last year for $1.44M at auction) and even though it has been criticized by some as misrepresenting the Native American culture at the time, its value as a documentary publication is enormous.


Since the book’s publication, Curtis’s work has been as adamantly praised by photographers as it has been vehemently criticized by etiologists.

He was criticized for altering his photography so that it represented the Native American people as the “noble savages” that they were stereotyped as at the time. By retouching photographs in order to remove traces of western civilization, he’s been accused of painting Native Americans as a “vanishing race” and drawing attention away from their true plight.


Still, the value of Curtis’s photography from a documentary standpoint, especially this far down the line, can’t be understated. Here is a small selection of the many photographs he returned home with:






To see more of Curtis’s work, head over to The Atlantic where the magazine has put together a gallery of 34 high-resolution photographs from Curtis’s archive.

(via The Atlantic)

Image credits: Photographs by Edward S. Curtis/The Library of Congress

  • Leonardo Abreu


  • gabe sturdevant

    There is an excellent, excellent documentary on Hulu about this. They interview some of the people and relatives of people he photographed and describes the impact on their lives. Its called “Coming to Light” And is a must watch.

  • Neoracer Xox

    wow Princess Leia buns!!

  • Cochese

    This is absolutely fantastic. Amazing even. The hell that has been wrought upon these peoples at the behest of “expansion” and “freedom” is truly a terror of genocidal proportions at the hands of those so many of us hold dear.

  • Dave Collyer

    Thanks Gabe for mentioning the documentary. Just watched and enjoyed it. Amazing.

  • heraclyde

    Good to show some interest… now that 99.9% of them have been conscientiously massacred.