Throwback From History | Edward Curtis

Beginning in 1900 and continuing over the next thirty years, Edward Sheriff Curtis, or the “Shadow Catcher” as he was later called by some of the tribes, took over 40,000 images and recorded rare ethnographic information from over eighty American Indian tribal groups, ranging from the Eskimo or Inuit people of the far north to the Hopi people of the Southwest. He captured the likeness of many important and well-known Indian people of that time, including Geronimo, Chief Joseph, Red Cloud, Medicine Crow and others. This monumental accomplishment comprises of more than 2,200 sepia toned photogravures bound in twenty volumes of written information and small images and twenty portfolios of larger artistic representations.

Navajo_medicine_man

Image Source : Wikipedia

Edward S. Curtis was born near Whitewater, Wisconsin in 1868. His father, a Civil War veteran and a Reverend, moved the family to Minnesota, where Edward became interested in photography and soon constructed his own camera and learned how to process the prints. At the age of seventeen he became an apprentice photographer in St. Paul. The family moved near Seattle, Washington, where Edward purchased a second camera.

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Image Source : Wikipedia

In addition to the constant struggle for financing, Curtis required the cooperation of the weather, vehicles, mechanical equipment, skilled technicians, scholars and researchers and the Indian tribes as well. He dispatched assistants to make tribal visits months in advance. With proper arrangements Curtis would travel by horseback or horse drawn wagon over paths to visit the tribes in their home territory. Once on site Curtis and his assistants would start work by photographing them either outside, in a structure, or inside his studio tent with an adjustable skylight. Employing these and other techniques over his lifetime he captured some of the most beautiful images of the Indian people ever recorded.

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Image Source : Wikipedia

One of Curtis’ major goals was to record as much of the people’s way of traditional life as possible. Not content to deal only with the present population, and their arts and industries, he recognised that the present is a result of the past, and the past dimension must be included, as well. Guided by this concept, Curtis made 10,000 wax cylinder recordings of Indian language and music. In addition he took over 40,000 images from over 80 tribes, recorded tribal mythologies and history, and described tribal population, traditional foods, dwellings, clothing, games, ceremonies, burial customs, biographical sketches and other primary source information: all from a living as well as past tradition. Extending the same principle to the photographs, he presented his subjects in a traditional way whenever possible and even supplied a bit of the proper clothing when his subjects had none. Reenactments of battles, moving camp, ceremonies and other past activities were also photographed. These efforts provided extended pleasure to the elders and preserve a rare view of the earlier ways of the people (Source: www.pbs.org).

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Image Source : Wikipedia

Curtis is very well known for his famous quote: ”The passing of every old man or woman means the passing of some tradition, some knowledge of sacred rites possessed by no other…consequently the information that is to be gathered, for the benefit of future generations, respecting the mode of life of one of the great races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be lost for all time.”

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Image Source : Wikipedia

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