The remarkable photographs in Ginza’s Indian chiefs collection are drawn from the early volumes of The North American Indian, Edward Curtis’ epic ethnographic record of the indigenous tribes of his homeland.
Published in the first decade of the twentieth century, the photographs depict a culture that had been harried and reduced by white settlers in North America, and yet which retained many of its strong, ancient traditions. Curtis travelled the continent for four decades, working to document these customs before they disappeared from the land.
Many of the images in The North American Indian were shot amid the monumental landscapes of the American West, but here we find the subjects portrayed in the studio. In common, they wear traditional clothing, complete with headdresses and breastplates. Some are braves, warriors, photographed with tomahawk in hand. Their names – Little Daylight, Weasel Tail, Ben Long Ear – evoke the spirit of the receding culture that Curtis hoped to preserve in print.
More than 60 years after Curtis’ death, the renown of his contribution to the documentation of American’s native people continues to build. Indeed, having been virtually forgotten in the 1950s and 60s, The North American Indian has become a highly sought after, collectible work of art, with full original editions selling for millions of dollars.