portraits, Striking Bear (detail). Sioux. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

Striking Bear (detail). Sioux. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

20 Remarkable Hand-Colored Portraits of American Indians

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.

portraits, Crow Chief Plenty Coups. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

Crow Chief Plenty Coups. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

portraits, Council Chief Bone Necklace, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

Library Of Congress

Council Chief Bone Necklace, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

portraits, Striking Bear (detail). Sioux. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

Striking Bear (detail). Sioux. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

portraits, Hopi herdsmen. Arizona. 1899. Photo by Detroit Photographic Company.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/New York Public library

Hopi herdsmen. Arizona. 1899. Photo by Detroit Photographic Company.

portraits, Eagle Arrow. A Blackfoot man. Montana. Early 1900s. Glass lantern slide by Walter McClintock.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Eagle Arrow. A Blackfoot man. Montana. Early 1900s. Glass lantern slide by Walter McClintock.

portraits, Kills on Horseback, Oglala Sioux, ca. 1899. Hand-colored and photographed by Herman Heyn.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Kills on Horseback, Oglala Sioux, ca. 1899. Hand-colored and photographed by Herman Heyn.

portraits, Group at a Potlatch. ca. 1900. British Columbia. Photo by Benjamin W. Leeson.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Group at a Potlatch. ca. 1900. British Columbia. Photo by Benjamin W. Leeson.

portraits, Chief Strikes With Nose, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

Library Of Congress

Chief Strikes With Nose, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

portraits, High Hawk, Council Chief, Oglala Lakota. 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/Denver Public Library

High Hawk, Council Chief, Oglala Lakota. 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo.

portraits, A Crow dancer. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

A Crow dancer. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

portraits, Big Man. Northern Arapaho. 1899. Photo by F.A. Rinehart with hand-coloring by Muhr.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Big Man. Northern Arapaho. 1899. Photo by F.A. Rinehart with hand-coloring by Muhr.

portraits, Ne-Kow-Se-Sla (Mrs. Warcas) with her grandson. First Nations, British Columbia. ca. 1900. Photo by Benjamin W. Leeson.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/City of Vancouver Archives

Ne-Kow-Se-Sla (Mrs. Warcas) with her grandson. First Nations, British Columbia. ca. 1900. Photo by Benjamin W. Leeson.

portraits, James Lone Elk, nephew of Old American Horse. Oglala Lakota. Early 1900s. Colorado. Photo by Heyn Photo.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

James Lone Elk, nephew of Old American Horse. Oglala Lakota. Early 1900s. Colorado. Photo by Heyn Photo.

portraits, Tall White Man. Cheyenne. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Tall White Man. Cheyenne. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

portraits, Broken Arm (Isto Nawege). Oglala Lakota, 1898. Photo by F.A. Rinehart with hand-coloring by Muhr.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Broken Arm (Isto Nawege). Oglala Lakota, 1898. Photo by F.A. Rinehart with hand-coloring by Muhr.

portraits, An Old Crow warrior, possibly Shot in the Hand. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

An Old Crow warrior, possibly Shot in the Hand. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

portraits, Chief Left Hand Bear, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo

Library of Congress

Chief Left Hand Bear, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo

portraits, Snake Whistle, a young Cheyenne man in dance regalia, Fort Keogh, Montana, 1880. Photo by L.A. Huffman.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa

Snake Whistle, a young Cheyenne man in dance regalia, Fort Keogh, Montana, 1880. Photo by L.A. Huffman.

portraits, Shout At, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo

Library Of Congress

Shout At, Oglala Lakota, 1899. Photo by Heyn Photo

portraits, Short Bull. Crow. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

Facebook/mosesonthemesa/University of Wyoming, American Heritage Center

Short Bull. Crow. Early 1900s. Photo by Richard Throssel.

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

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20 Remarkable Hand-Colored Portraits of American Indians

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