A portrait is a painted or photographic likeness of a person. Often, a portrait shows only the person's face, but some portraits show part or all of the person's body. A good portrait captures not only appearance, but also character. Lighting, pose, where the subject's gaze is directed, props, and backgrounds are some of the ways a photographer can convey character.
Curtis made many portraits of Native Americans. Below is a list of just a few of the many portraits in the collection. Access many more portraits by Browsing by Subject and clicking on Portraits under the Persons heading.
- Chief of the desert - Navaho (The North American Indian; v.01)
- Inashah - Yakima (The North American Indian; v.07)
- Ogalala woman (The North American Indian; v.03)
- Esipermi - Comanche (The North American Indian; v.19)
- Arikara girl (The North American Indian; v.05)
- Black Eagle - Nez Perce (The North American Indian; v.08)
- Hopi mother (The North American Indian; v.12)
Examine several of Curtis's photographic portraits. Look carefully at the portraits before reading the captions. Notice the lighting in the photographs. Examine how the subjects are posed, where they are looking, which features are most dominant, and the expressions on their faces. Study the backgrounds and any other objects shown in the pictures. Then read the captions and answer the following questions.
- What, if anything, can you determine from examining the facial features and expressions in the portraits you studied?
- What do you notice about the lighting in the photographs? How does the lighting influence your response to the pictures?
- What do you notice about the ways the subjects are posed? What do you think Curtis was trying to suggest about the character of his subjects when he photographed them in profile ? Facing the camera but looking away from it? Facing the camera and looking into it?
- Are there any other objects or details in the background that suggest something about the subject's character?
- How do the captions tend to influence the reader's opinion of the individuals? What clues in the captions may indicate a bias?
- Which portrait is your favorite? Why? Write a caption for that portrait explaining why you think it is an excellent example of the art of portraiture.