Photographs of Native Americans
The American Antiquarian Society's collection of photgraphs of Native Americans features the work of several known photographers including William H. Jackson (1843-1942) and Jack Hillers (1843-1925) as well as many unknown artists. The collection spans from 1859 to 1900 and represents thirty-nine tribes in several different formats, including stereographs, cabinet cards, and cartes-de-visite.
These photographs illustrate nineteenth-century Native American culture, from traditional dress and daily life, to formal portraits of notable tribal officials. Many of the images also depict the interaction between Native American culture and American culture. Photographs of reservation life show men in suits and women in high-necked dresses posed in front of clapboard houses. Some images -- such as a portrait series of somber Modoc war prisoners photographed shortly before their executions -- recall the grimmer reality of this interaction.
In viewing this collection, it is important to consider the images with a critical eye. Many of the photographs reflect the biases of photographers working in the era of Manifest Destiny, when appalling treatment of Native tribes was considered justifiable. Stereographs and cabinet cards--such as the ones in this collection--were produced as objects of ethnographic interest for display in the parlors of curious white Americans. Photographers certainly had this audience in mind when posing their subjects.
This collection is fascinating in both the subject matter and the cultural context in which the images were created. Many of the Native American images have been scanned and are available in digital format. A collection inventory of this scanned portion of the collection has been completed.
- Cynthia Rufo, Graphic Arts intern, 2006