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American Women: Resources from the Prints & Photographs Collections

Commercial Photographs of Native Americans

Ellie Ganado. Copyright by Fred Harvey. 1906. Library of Congress Prints & Photographs Division.

Some commercial photographers produced images of individuals not for the individuals' own use but to sell as ethnographic documentation of foreign or “exotic” peoples.

Many commercial photography firms embarked on such efforts in the U.S. in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As with the well-known Edward Curtis photographs, the images frequently focus on women and their activities (see the Edward Curtis Collection section of this guide). Most of the images were selected from items submitted for U.S. copyright by the firms.

Searching the Collection

Most of the photographs by commercial photographers have been grouped into LOTs by photographer, publisher, or copyright holder.

Descriptions of the groups can be found online by searching Groups of Images using the standard subject term Indians of North America or the names of particular tribes or photographers. (Note: This subject heading is under review.)

Items that have been requested for reproduction are individually described and can be viewed online.

For those that have not been digitized and individually described, on-site researchers can submit call slips to view the LOTs.

Please note that terminology in historical materials and in Library descriptions does not always match the language preferred by members of Native communities, and may include negative stereotypes. Item descriptions often include direct transcriptions of original captions. The Library includes the historic captions because they can be important for understanding the context in which the images were created.

Further Information

Sample Images