Algerian man by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906–1914. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Bavarian man by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906–1914. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Dutch siblings from the Island of Marken holding religious tracts, by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1905. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

German stowaway, deported May 1911, by Augustus F. Sherman. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Greek evzone or palace guard by Augustus F. Sherman, 1911. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Russian Cossacks by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Guadaloupean woman by Augustus F. Sherman, 1911. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Roma family by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1905. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Italian woman by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Ruthenian woman by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Mother and two daughters from Zuid-Beveland, province of Zeeland, the Netherlands, by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1905. New York Public Library/Wikimedia Commons

Augustus Frederick Sherman (1865–1925) worked as a registry clerk with the Immigration Division at Ellis Island from 1892 until close to his death. Over the course of his career he took around 250 photographs of new arrivals at the immigration centre, capturing pictures of Romanian shepherds, Italian peasants, German stowaways, circus performers, single women and families, often wearing elaborate national dress or folk costumes found in his subjects’ luggage. Although the portraits were unofficial, they were used by the centre’s directors to promote the work of the facility, and were also published National Geographic and other magazines, including journals that co-opted them for the purpose of anti-immigration propaganda. Many of the images are now on display at the Ellis Island Museum of Immigration, and were collected in a book accompanying an exhibition that opened at the Museum in 2005 and has since travelled widely. In Augustus F. Sherman: Portraits from Ellis Island, 1905–25 (Aperture, 2005), anthropologist Peter Mesenhöller provides new critical context and analysis of this rich collection, and also addresses the individual images as powerful, engaging photographs created by a master portraitist.
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Slovakian woman and her children by Augustus F. Sherman, c. 1906–1914. New York Public Library

Read an extract from Gaëlle Josse’s novel The Last Days of Ellis Island, in which the narrator, the centre’s last resident and guardian, reflects back on Sherman’s activities: The portraitist

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