Edward S. Curtis, Indiens d’Amérique
The early 20th century witnessed the epilogue of one of the greatest genocides in human history. In the first decade, the so-called American Indians were dying in the reserves that the United States had invented, or they had already died from illness, despair, or at the hands of the US army. Edward S. Curtis, a Seattle photographer, realized at the time the importance of their disappearance and devoted 30 years of his life to documenting the survivors. Many of his iconic photographs can now be found in Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.
Nicknamed “Shadow Catcher,” Curtis was a dashing man, tall and bearded, who knew his way around the high society of the East coast. He relied on the country’s elite to finance his projects: photographing the daily lives of the 80 remaining tribes. Strangely, it was this same elite whose industrial operations placed the Native Americans in danger of extinction. A humanist photographer, Curtis managed over time to earn the trust of many tribes at a time when the government preferred to eradicate their customs and their way of life. Patience and perseverance led him to undertake several expeditions during which he photographed Native American faces, their camps, their hunts, their rituals and traditions. He was also invited to attend secret rituals which few white men had ever witnessed.
Among these photographs, viewers will recognize the several portraits of Indian chiefs, or this wide shot of Canyon de Chelly (1904), showing seven Navajo horsemen riding at the foot of an orange canyon. Curtis has been accused by critics of staging several of his photographs, asking his subjects to trade their modern clothing for more traditional garments worn by their parents. Regardless, his body of work, which contains 40,000 photographs and 10,000 recordings in 75 languages is among the most extensive anthropological undertakings ever conducted.
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal
Photographs of Edward Curtis
By Timothy Egan
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt