Photographs of Native Americans

The American Antiquarian Society's collection of photographs of Native Americans contains over 200 images of individuals from thirty-nine tribes in several different formats, including stereographs, cabinet cards, and cartes-de-visite. Spaning from 1859 to 1910, the collection includes the work of several known photographers including William H. Jackson (1843-1942) and Jack Hillers (1843-1925) as well as many unknown artists.

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.


Images of the collection are available through the Society's digital image archive.

Photographs of North American Indians: An AAS Illustrated Inventory highlights a small collection of nineteenth-century photographs of Native Americans.

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