National Museum of the American Indian

Merl LaVoy photographs from Alaska


Collection ID:
LaVoy, Merl
Physical Description:
27 Photographic prints
26 Copy negatives
This collection includes 27 prints and 26 copy negatives taken by Merl LaVoy among the Inupiaq in Alaska during the 1920s.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
Copy negatives include N35373-N35398. Photographic prints include P08480-P08506.


Arranged by catalog number.

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Merl LaVoy, one of the first internationally famous news photographers, was born in 1886. He was a Wisconsin native, but after his parents died when he was still a young boy, LaVoy moved to Oregon to live with his uncle. In 1907, LaVoy worked for the Great Northern Development Company, which was prospecting for copper on the Kotsina River in Alaska. In 1910, LaVoy agreed to join Herschel Parker and Belmore Browne as an expedition photographer for their 1912 hike of Mt. McKinley (the highest peak in North America, also known as Denali) in Alaska. This trip marked the beginning of his professional pursuit of photography; he subsequently marketed his Alaskan photographs to newspapers and magazines, and soon established himself as a photographer, documentary film maker, and cameraman for Pathé News, a British company that produced documentaries, newsreels, and cinemagazines (1910-1970). He also traveled across Europe to document World War I. During the 1920s, he carried out a detailed photographic study of native Alaskan life. LaVoy died in 1953 in South Africa, where he was working as a freelance photographer.


Mikaela Hamilton
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Gift of Merl LaVoy, 1927
Processing Information
Collection record written by Mikaela Hamilton, Archives Center Intern in 2020.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Access
Access to NMAI Archives Center collections is by appointment only, Monday - Friday, 9:30 am - 4:30 pm. Please contact the archives to make an appointment (phone: 301-238-1400, email:
Photos N34398, N35398, P08505, and P08505 are restricted due to cultural sensitivity.
Conditions Governing Use
Permission to publish materials from the collection must be requested from National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center. Please submit a written request to For personal or classroom use, users are invited to download, print, photocopy, and distribute the images that are available online without prior written permission, provided that the files are not modified in any way, the Smithsonian Institution copyright notice (where applicable) is included, and the source of the image is identified as the National Museum of the American Indian. For more information please see the Smithsonian's Terms of Use and NMAI Archive Center's Digital Image request website.
Preferred Citation
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Merl LaVoy photographs from Alaska, image #, NMAI.AC.163, National Museum of the American Indian Archives Center, Smithsonian Institution.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Inupiaq (Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo) Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Inupiaq (Alaskan Inupiat Eskimo) [Nuwukmiut/Point Barrow] Cultural Context Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Barrow, Point (Alaska) Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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