20 Remarkable Hand-Colored Portraits of American Indians

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center / Striking Bear (detail). Sioux. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Filmmaker Paul Ratner created a portraits project while gathering research for his 2014 film 'Moses on the Mesa'

We’re all familiar with the classic black-and-white (or sepia-toned) portraits that, for better or worse, defined the image of the American Indian in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Photography was a young artistic medium, yet many photographers were already frustrated by its limitations. They wanted color, but the technology didn’t exist—Kodachrome film wouldn’t hit the market until 1935. But that didn’t mean color images didn’t exist. Resourceful photographers who wanted their audience to glimpse the vivid colors they saw from behind the lens simply applied color to their monochrome images. The process was done by hand, using brushes and paint or pastels. The result was not color photos but colored photos.

Most of these pictures came from the facebook page for the film Moses on the Mesa, where filmmaker Paul Ratner continued to post historical photographs of Native Americans. (A handful of the pictures here are from the Library of Congress.) Ratner’s movie tells the true story of Solomon Bibo, a German Jewish immigrant who became Governor of Acoma Pueblo; the photo gathering that began as research for Moses on the Mesa became a project all its own. To learn more about the film (and see more photos from the filmmaker’s collection) check out ICTMN’s interview with Paul Ratner.

As for the film, it continued to win praise and build momentum throughout 2014. Moses on the Mesa was picked as the Best Film Made in New Mexico at the 2014 White Sands Film Festival, and it was selected for inclusion in the Red Nation Film Festival, the Sedona Jewish Film Festival, and the Budapest Jewish Film Festival.

This story was originally published on ICTMN on October 24, 2014.

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