The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego Selk'nam, Yamana, Kawésqar

Martin Gusinde, Christine Barthe, Xavier Barral, Marisol Palma Behnke, Anne Chapman, Dominique Legoupil


A German missionary sent to Tierra del Fuego in 1919 by his congregation, Martin Gusinde was a major Americanist and ethnographer from the first half of the twentieth century. While his mission was ostensibly to convert the native peoples among whom he lived, Gusinde did just the opposite, eventually becoming one of the first Westerners ever to be initiated into the various sacred rites of the inhabitants of Tierra del Fuego. In the course of four sojourns made between 1919 and 1924, from the canals of Western Patagonia to the great island of Tierra del Fuego, he learned and wrote about the Kawésqar, Yamana, and Selk’nam peoples. Gradually, the missionary became an anthropologist.

Fascinated by what he saw, Gusinde took more than one thousand photographs, all produced using a portable darkroom. Gusinde captured some truly extraordinary images that his contemporaries were unable to: feather-clad bodies sporting high headdresses made of bark, wrapped up in guanaco furs, or entirely covered with ritual paint, populating a landscape battered by wind, rain, and snow—the heart of a natural world that Darwin had celebrated, not long before, for its wildness. A dazzling visual experience, Gusinde’s photographs are a monument to the memory of the Tierra del Fuego people as well as an exceptional anthropological document.


what we see is the human body transformed, redesigned into representations of spirits

— Design Observer

A very important work not to be missed…The book features a selection of 1,200 images that were recently digitized from Gusinde’s original negatives and prints housed in the Anthropos Institute in Germany. The “bewitching quality” of images taken between 1919 and 1924 brings these extinct cultures alive with marvelous portraits, some with wonderful smiling faces, which are rich in cultural and religious activities with all the valuable ethnographic details and beauty of a landscape and its original people.

— Choice

Arresting …Not only pays tribute to Gusinde’s images, but the profound cultural loss they represent.

— The Explorers Journal

Photography was an important aspect of Gusinde’s scientific and humanistic endeavor, and The Lost Tribes of Tierra del Fuego is the first book to address this aspect of his work in its own right…Bewitchingly surreal.

— The New York Review of Books

Extraordinary…A memorial to a people and a culture that were vanished from this earth.

— Crave

A mesmerizing collection of photographs by the German priest and anthropologist Martin Gusinde, made in the course of four expeditions between 1918 and 1924… Gusinde's approach was both respectful and scientific; his pictures of wild costumes and total nudity alike are as rigorously framed as those his compatriots Bernd and Hilla Becher later made of disappearing industrial architecture—they share a taxonomic consideration that rewards the viewer with a stern but involving rhythm.

— The New York Times Book Review


Martin Gusinde

Photographs By

Martin Gusinde (1886–1969) was a German missionary who became a distinguished Americanist and ethnographer noted especially for his anthropological work on the native peoples of Tierra del Fuego.

Christine Barthe

Edited By

Christine Barthe is director of the heritage unit of the photographic collections of the Musée du Quai Branly, Paris.

Xavier Barral

Edited By

Xavier Barral is an Spanish art historian.

Marisol Palma Behnke

Text By

Marisol Palma Behnke is a historian and specialist in Latin American ethnographic photography.

Anne Chapman

Text By

Anne Chapman was an ethnologist who met and studied the last of the Selk’nam people.

Dominique Legoupil

Text By

Dominique Legoupil is a researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research.