In the year 1900, photographer Edward Curtis traveled from his home in Seattle to Montana to witness a Native American Sun Dance, which he and other members of the expedition believed would be the last event of its kind, ever. Anne Makepeace writes about the effect this had on the man in her book Edward Curtis: Coming to Light:
“If some Indians believed that the camera could capture one’s soul, at this Sun Dance in 1900 it was Curtis’s soul that was captured. This vision of a passing world would change Curtis’s life, uproot him from his home, and send him on an Odyssean journey that would consume him for the next 30 years.”
I personally did not know the name Edward Curtis until quite recently when a colleague talked about a recently published biography of him, but some of his photographs were familiar to me. His haunting photographs of Native Americans around the country in the early twentieth century have become iconic. You can see many of them on display at the Minneapolis Central Branch of the Hennepin County Library from now through January 6th in an exhibit called “Beauty, Heart and Spirit: The Sacred Legacy® of Edward S. Curtis and the North American Indian.” Photographers take note of the November 15th event at which master printers discuss Curtis’s ahead-of-his-time printing techniques.
I have yet to see the exhibit myself, but I’ve been reading about Curtis’s life:
This photo of Chief Joseph (shown here from the children’s biography Shadow Catcher: The Life and Work of Edward Curtis) was the one that clicked with me:
While his work was not without controversy, it remains a significant legacy. I know I can’t read about the dedication and empathy that Curtis put into this project without thinking about what might capture my soul in such a way.
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