The West-ography, re-imaging the West Collection is made up of different photographic approaches to documenting the rich and changing contexts that have characterized the American West. Early photography of the West focused on capturing the unique landscapes that the West had to offer and on creating portraits of Native Americans. As time went on, photographers began to make portraits of pioneers and started to document many aspects of life in the West like Western fiestas and pageantry.
In the West-ography Collection, visitors can go through Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian: being a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians on the United States, and Alaska (numbered plate portfolios and boxes 1 and 4). This body of work began in 1906 when Curtis was commissioned by JP Morgan to make photos of the American Indians. Morgan paid Curtis $75,000 (around $2,000,000 in today’s money) to complete the project which would take him around 20 years to do.
Curtis’ goal in the project was to not only make photos of the American Indians he encountered, but also to document their fading way of life. To that end, he brought along a team of scholars including anthropologists and journalists. Throughout this pursuit, Curtis took over 40,000 photographs of Native Americans from over 80 tribes and carefully depicted their way of life through written records.
All images are from The North American Indian: being a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians of the United States, and Alaska, by Edward S. Curtis, published by The University Press (Cambridge, Mass.), beginning in 1907 and culminating in 1930. The full set is held in Special Collections at the Claremont Colleges Library.
Currently, the collection includes select Edward S. Curtis photogravures from his The North American Indian: being a series of volumes picturing and describing the Indians of the United States, and Alaska numbered plate portfolios and boxes 1 and 4 from the Charles Lummis photograph collection which cover the American southwest and California.
Future plans include adding photographs from the Marion Parks Papers and a variety of other materials from Special Collections, Claremont Colleges Library which contain Western imagery.
Parks’ photographs include “La Fiesta de Los Angeles”- which was an annual “celebration of Southern California and the Southwest” in the 1890s and other historical pageants/events in Los Angeles. Though the initial focus is on photographs, it is hoped other “imaging” media such as video files, audio files, and ephemera will also be added to this collection. This collection is a “work in progress” so please check back regularly.
This entry was written by Special Collections Student Assistant, Tristan Marsh (Pomona College ’18).