Native American Photography – Gertrude Kasebier

Native American jewelry has a long and rich history steeped in tradition, and it’s fascinating to see how it looked more than a century ago through stunning vintage photographs of American Indians before white colonization completely changed their landscape.

One renowned photographer of Native Americans last century and prior was Gertrude Kasebier.

Who Was Gertrude Kasebier?

Gertrude Kasebier

Gertrude Kasebier, c1900

Born in 1852 as Gertrude Stanton in Fort Des Moines, Iowa, she was the daughter of a sawmill owner who prospered in the gold rush. The family joined her father in Colorado, where Kasebier was one of few white children, many of her friends being Native Americans. The family later relocated to New York in 1862 due to the Civil War.

From her childhood, Gertrude had a passion for pictures. She married Eduard Kasebier, who was a shellac importer from a wealthy German family, in 1873, and despite her independent spirit, she had three children. She remained determined to be an artist, and although the marriage was not happy, Eduard supported Gertrude as she attended school and travelled in Europe.

She enrolled in the Pratt Institute to study portrait painting from 1889-1893, and by 1894 was heavily involved in photography as well. She won photography competitions and during a stay in France moved her focus to portrait photography.

She returned to New York around 1895 and opened her studio where she took photographs which she then exhibited. She captured images of New York’s most recognizable people; however, her real interest lay in photographing American Indians.

American Indian Photography

Joe Black Fox

Joe Black Fox by Gertrude Kasebier 1898

Unlike many others who focused on the photography of Native Americans, Kasebier’s work was artistically motivated. Some of her most renowned work was to feature the Lakota Sioux “Show Indians” from the Buffalo Bill Wild West show which visited New York City in 1898. These included Chief Iron Tail, Has No Horses, Red Horn Bull, and Kills Close to the Lodge. She took more than one hundred images of Sioux, as well as fourteen drawings, photographing Sioux subjects for more than a decade. Her images were produced both in her NYC studio as well as on the Sioux reservation.

Sioux Couple

Sioux Couple by Gertrude Kasebier

Kasebier’s work was not exclusively Native American portraiture, however, her Native American portraits are among her most striking. She is also renowned for her intimate images of motherhood, and for promoting photography as a career for women.

She lost her sight and hearing by the late 1920s, passing in 1934. She was inducted into the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in 1979.

IMAGE SOURCE: THE SMITHSONIAN

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