For vintage portraitists, no one can ever go wrong with Edward Curtis, the American photographer, and ethnologist whose coverage of the American West and Native American peoples continue to be one of the most significant works and oeuvre of an artist in American history.
The Kwakwaka'wakw or the Kwakiutl were an indigenous people from the Pacific Northwest Coast, united by the common language of Kwak'wala. This group can be divided into 13 nations, each with its own clan structure and history. But they all share the belief from ancestral folklore -- they came to a given spot - by a way of land, sea, or underground -- in the form of ancestral animals that on their arrival, had shed their animal appearance and turned human.
Anthropologist Franz Boas was fascinated by their belief and ideas on wealth, that status does not come from how much one owns, but how much one can give away. He wrote about their gift-giving ceremonies such as the 'potlach'.
The photographs here show them in ceremonial dresses and masks, a project made and funded by banking magnate J.P. Morgan.
The Kwakiutl were first contacted by Westerners in 1792 through Capt. George Vancouver's expedition, and was followed by European colonies. As with settlers, they came with a disease that dropped the Kwakiutl population of 75%, between 1830 and 1880.
Images are from the public domain.