Every photograph represents only a moment in time, a fragment of an event, a split second of a person’s life. But each photograph also represents a record of the photographer’s perspective on a subject. In these images, you will see a nation’s changing attitudes toward Native peoples.
From the mid-1860s to 1935, photographers created a visual catalog of Native Americans. This exhibition draws on historically significant prints from the Palace of the Governors Photo Archives to explore three distinct periods of Native American portraiture.
The earliest photographs (1860s-1880) reflect the U.S. government’s systematic attempt to record tribal peoples threatened with annihilation. In this era of western expansion, government explorations and private initiatives set out to preserve material and scientific information, but in many ways their efforts documented a wishful theory of the “vanishing Indian.”
Commercial photography and narrative photo-essays by amateur and professional photographers (1880-1900) promoted development and tourism. Portraits of individuals became a micro-economy for these photographers, whose work often exploited an area’s potential for new industry and tourism through images of romantic and exotic beauty.
The photographers of the Pictorial Movement(1900-1935), emphasized grand notions of character in their subjects—strength, courage, wisdom, and beauty. Tourist publications by railroad companies and the Fred Harvey Company, along with Edward Curtis’ The North American Indian, celebrated this romantic symbolism and perpetuated the myth of the vanishing Indian. To view and purchase these and other historic photographs, browse our website at: http://econtent.unm.edu/cdm4/indexpg.php