Peter d'Errico: Indigenous people outlast Edward Curtis photos

"Edward Curtis was a star at the start of his monumental work, "The North American Indian." At the halfway point, his fame had vanished, though his stupendous effort to record the "vanishing Indians" continued. By the time he finished, he lived in obscurity, his work almost forgotten. Today, his work is once again famous, and, more important, is a record for posterity of those who he thought were doomed.

The trajectory of Curtis's fame follows the trajectory of American popular attitudes toward the Indigenous peoples of the continent. The romanticism of the earlier period was coupled with cynical arrogance: Pictures of Indians living the old ways were both beautiful and a sign that the "progress" of the colonial process was inevitable.

By the time the colonists felt they had fully overrun the Indians, Curtis's photographs were passé. Indians were remnants. Despite this—or, more accurately, because of this, Curtis felt impelled to ever-greater effort. He did more than photograph. He recorded songs and language and built word lists and dictionaries, with the help of Indian and non-Indian assistants."

Get the Story:
Peter d'Errico: Shadows and Light: The Edward Curtis Legacy (Indian Country Today 12/1)

Related Stories:
PBS: Book offers portraits of Native lives though Edward Curtis (11/23)
Review: Edward Curtis documented 'vanishing race' of Indians (11/12)
Review: A glowing portrait of Edward Curtis and his 'Epic Life' (10/30)
Review: Book tackles 'Epic Life' of photographer Edward Curtis (10/15)
Blog: Edward Curtis captured humanity of the first Americans (10/12)

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