Sunday, August 3, 2008

Capturing A Lost Time

Edward Curtis was born in Wisconsin in 1868, the son of a Civil War veteran. At the age of 17, in 1885, he was apprenticed to a photographer and when his family moved to Seattle in 1887, he opened a photography studio. A chance meeting on Mt. Rainier led to his inclusion on an expedition to Montana in 1900 to photograph the Blackfeet Indians.

In 1906, J.P. Morgan offered him the incredible sum of $75,000 to produce a series of 20 volumes including 1.500 photographs, chronicling the vanishing world of the American West and the Native Americans. Edward Curtis dedicated himself to the task. He took 40,000 photographs of 80 tribes and made over 10,000 wax cylinder recordings to preserve the various languages and the musical traditions of the tribes. He also documented tribal customs, food, lore, history, housing, garments and ceremonies. Much of what we know today is due to his efforts to preserve this knowledge.

Edward Curtis died in 1952 at the home of his daughter in Whittier, California, a man of a totally different era. The photograph above was a self portrait he made in 1889. The first photograph below was made by him in 1923 of a Hupa man spearing fish midstream amongst fog shrouded mountains in the Pacific Northwest. Edward Curtis titled it "A Smoky Day At The Sugar Bowl". The second photograph below is titled "Canyon de Chelly" and shows seven Navajo riders with a dog, against a background of cliffs, made in 1904.

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