Portraits of Native Americans

Photographs from the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition

Turn-of-the-century images of Native Americans, in a postcard format

Incredibly, as recently as ninety years ago, it was not uncommon for organizers of world fairs or even museum curators to scour the world looking for “exotic” people to exhibit at their respective expositions and institutions. At one such fair, the Louisiana Purchase Exposition of 1904, Charles H. Carpenter, chief photographer of the Field Museum in Chicago, photographed what would become his magnum opus, a collection of over eight hundred photographs of Native Americans.

In an effort to preserve the visually rich moments captured as a result of this particular cultural practice of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Portraits of Native Americans gathers together for the first time twenty-three black-and-white photographs from this prodigious collection. Carpenter photographed the Native Americans on the fairground as the tourists saw them and against simple studio backgrounds, where photographer and subjects achieved an intimacy that elevates these pictures to art. Although the ways in which Native Americans and non–Native Americans view one another have greatly changed since these photos were taken, these exquisite images are a powerful evocation of their time.