Arts & Entertainment

Review: Edward Curtis documented 'vanishing race' of Indians





"In the summer of 1900 the American photographer Edward S. Curtis traveled from his home in Seattle to the Blackfeet Nation on the plains of northern Montana. The trip, Timothy Egan writes in a new biography, was a turning point.

White Calf, a nearly 60-year-old chief, consented to let Curtis photograph his tribe’s village and its people, for a fair fee. He forbid photography only at the five-day Sun Dance, a ceremony that missionaries and federal agents were trying to eradicate. White Calf even agreed to be photographed himself, but when he showed up for his portrait, he wore a blond wig and a blue United States Army uniform. That wasn’t what Curtis wanted.

White Calf’s get-up perhaps referred to George A. Custer, who had met his end a generation earlier at the Little Bighorn. It also, in some sense, mocked Curtis’s impossible mission, which seized him on that very trip and which he pursued with monomaniacal passion for the next three decades: “The North American Indian,” a 20-volume encyclopedia of photographs and text on (supposedly) every “intact” American Indian nation on the North American continent."

Get the Story:
Driven to Document a ‘Vanishing Race’ (The New York Times 11/12)

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