Tag Archives: Native Americans

Documenting the Untamed West: The Genius of Edward Curtis

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It’s rare when one can regard a photograph and instantly know its creator. It’s even rarer to regard a photograph that sends chills up your spine as it transports you to the scene and time in which it was taken.

The work of Edward Curtis falls into both categories.

The son of a Civil War vet, Curtis was born February 16, 1868 near Whitewater, Wisconsin. He began shooting with a homemade camera, before his family moved to Seattle in 1887 where Curtis started his career. While in Seattle, he photographed the daughter of Chief Sealth, Princess Angeline, and various scenes of the developing Western landscape. In 1906, J.P Morgan commissioned Curtis to shoot what would become the highwater mark of his career, a series on the North American Indian.

I won’t belabor the points of his life much more, as you can just check out his wikipedia entry here, (and I highly recommend doing so, as he led a fascinating life), but the photos below are a few of my favorites from his archive at the Library of Congress, which consists of of more than 2,400 silver-gelatin, first generation photographic prints made from Curtis’s original glass negatives.

Teddy Roosevelt said of Curtis, “In Mr. Curtis we have both an artist and a trained observer, whose work has far more than mere accuracy, because it is truthful. …because of his extraordinary success in making and using his opportunities, has been able to do what no other man ever has done; what, as far as we can see, no other man could do.”

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Fashion Horizons – 1941

Part 1: “It’s a fairyland of tumbling castles, far above where the raindrops fall.”

Part 2: “Horizons in the air, like fashion horizons, are reached only to reappear again and again.”

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