In 1906, Curtis was approached by the financier J.P. Morgan about funding a project on the indigenous people of the continent. They planned a 20-volume series called The North American Indian, from which the images below are culled. He received no salary for the project, which lasted more than 20 years, during which he created an estimated 40,000 images of over 100 tribes. A photographer turned ethnologist, he also made thousands of recordings of native language and music, and transcribed oral histories.

Though Curtis often romanticized his subjects, at times photographing them in ceremonial attire not regularly worn and wigs to conceal contemporary hair styles, he was an outspoken opponent of the devastating use of relocation and reservations. His photographs remain one of the only historical documents that offer insight into the lives of a people nearly driven to extinction.


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