Edward Sherriff Curtis was one of the most influential photographers of the 19th century. Born in Wisconsin in 1868, he spent the majority of his career travelling across America capturing pictures of some of the most remote cultures in the country. His photographs were well-known for their beauty and unique depiction of everyday life. They gave people a chance to witness the diversity of America in ways that previously hadn’t been captured and provided a rare glimpse into the lives of many indigenous cultures. His photos even caught the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who later commissioned him to photograph his family portraits.
Curtis’ most popular photographs were taken over a 20-year period starting from 1906. Financed by J.P. Morgan, these photos documented the lives of North American Indians across the country. The series, entitled The North American Indian, contained portraits of tribe members as well as beautiful scenes depicting communities as they took part in ceremonies and daily errands. Many historians regard his project as one of the most significant contributions to American history because of its sheer scale.
According to the Smithsonian magazine, the production of The North American Indian would have cost more than $35 million in today’s dollars. The entire series contains over 40,000 photos documenting 80 different Native American tribes in the United States. Curtis’ work was heavily praised by Bruce Kapson Gallery because it was “able to convey a dignity, universal humanity and majesty that transcend literally all other work ever done on the subject.”
We picked some of the best photos from his collection and, as you’ll see, they are stunning.
In 1908, he took a photo of this Apsaroke man on a horseback.
A fisherman of the Hupa tribe watches for salmon, 1923.
A shaman of the Apsaroke tribe, 1908.
Mom holding her newborn child, 1908.
Duck hunter of the Kutenai tribe, 1910.
An iconic scene depicting a group of Navajo tribesmen travelling together in the Canyon de Chelly, Arizona, 1904.
Medicine Crow, of the Apsaroke tribe, 1908.
Two Piegan girls harvesting goldenrod plants from the fields, 1910.
Piegan chiefs, 1900.
Sioux chiefs, 1905.
A man from the Hidatsa tribe stands with an eagle, 1908.
A Brulé man, 1907.
A girl of the Jicarrilla Apache tribe, 1910.
A girl of the Wishran tribe, 1910.
Dancers of the Qagyuhl tribe performing a ceremony, 1914.
Members of the Kwakiutwl tribe arrive to a wedding party in canoes, 1914.
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