Born in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Elias Bonine was one of three brothers, all of whom were photographers. Moving to California in 1876, he traveled throughout the state and photographed in remote areas, using his tent as both home and darkroom. He subsequently settled in Lamanda Park, near Pasadena.
Bonine was one of the most prolific photographers of Native American portraits in the carte-de-visite format. Unlike the earlier work of government survey photographers or of early anthropologists who used photography as field research, Bonine’s images were made for public audience increasingly enthralled by native subjects. His several trips to Arizona in the 1870s and 1880s produced hundreds of portraits of members of the Yuman tribes, including Maricopas. Photographing his subjects in a temporary studio, Bonine attempted to add “natural” touches such as rocks or logs rather than the usual props of chair or curtain. Bonine’s photographs were staged, calculated for a buying public who preferred the romance of the disappearing Indian to a more truthful and authentic presentation.
Merry A. Foresta American Photographs: The First Century (Washington, D.C.: National Museum of American Art with the Smithsonian Institution Press, 1996)