Photographer Enhances Historical Photos Of Native Americans And The Result Is Stunning

When filmmaker Paul Ratner was conducting research for his 2013 film, Moses on the Mesa, he wanted to capture as much authenticity as possible, both for his film’s sake and for the sake of the Native American people, who by any account have suffered greatly at the hands of our country.

In his research, Ratner came across some old photographs from the late 19th century and early 20th century. What he found was a peek into the lives of a proud people in the midst of losing their way of life.

These were originally black-and-white photographs, but color was painstakingly added to them by hand. This photo of a man named Ringing Bell is from 1908.
old native american photos

There are some who say that adding color ruins the integrity of the photos, but it also gives them an otherworldly beauty. This photograph of Ute Chief Ignacio, taken some time in the the 1870s, is striking.
old native american photos

Many of these photos are portraits, but others offer a slice of everyday life. This photograph features Onetsa, Nitana, and their daughter Yellow Mink, part of the Siksika nation in southern Alberta, Canada, around the early 1900s.
old native american photos

Part of the reason Ratner was able to find so many photos is because European colonialists were fascinated by “exotic” Native American culture. Many photographers excitedly traveled the West in hopes of taking pictures just like these.
old native american photos

As exploitative as it may have been, there’s an even darker secret to the photographs: they were taken while people like Chief Hollow Horn Bear of the Sicangu Lakota were facing terrible oppression and discrimination.
old native american photos

The Native Americans never had the kind of monolithic culture that certain stereotypes would have you believe. Each tribe had its own unique customs, clothing, and other ways of life.
old native american photos

Ratner’s film, Moses on the Mesa, explores the troubled relationship between white settlers and Native Americans.
old native american photos

Much of the Native American culture has been wiped out since then, but the enchanting beauty of these photos and the people in them is undeniable.
old native american photos

Ratner is quoted as saying it’s “inconceivable” that anyone would want to destroy such a rich culture.
old native american photos

As sad as the history behind these photos is, they can also be used to celebrate the history of Native Americans.
old native american photos

This striking hand-colored portrait of Zuni elder Si Wa Wata Wa was taken in 1903.
old native american photos

Each of these photos immortalize history; this picture of Chief Wolf Robe of the Cheyenne, taken around 1898, is a great example of just that.
old native american photos

The woman in this photograph earned the nickname Mrs. Bad Gun because she avenged the murder of her husband by killing his four assailants with a rifle.
old native american photos

Ratner appreciates the photos for their ability to capture the “truer likeness” of these people, and that translates into the film.
old native american photos

Their beauty is just undeniable.
old native american photos

It’s almost like you’re really there in the forest with her!
old native american photos
Photography truly has the power to take you to another time. Hopefully, more people will see these photos and remember how special and important Native American history really is.

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