Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher by Timothy Egan

After the death of his sickly father, Edward Curtis lived a hardscrabble life as the main supporter for hisshort nights family.  He also learned the craft of photography in what little spare time he had, and parlayed his skills and drive into the most profitable portrait studio in 1890s Seattle.  At that time, having one’s photograph made in Curtis’ studio was a mark of prestige in the rapidly growing city.  His interests in picture making, though, went far beyond the wealthy denizens he immortalized in frames.  Curtis was far more interested in photographing what was left of the Native American cultures still existing in the area.  As an insatiable adventurer, he was well suited to the task of traveling to even the most remote places to get the perfect picture,

Curtis began envisioning a lengthy series of pictorial volumes that would showcase most of the known tribes of the American West, and was relentless in pitching his ideas to financiers.  He made friends with Teddy Roosevelt, and counted J. P. Morgan as a major benefactor.  The project still went well past deadlines and budget, and Curtis was continually broke.  His long absences from home life and expenditures ended a marriage that started out idyllically, and he alienated co-workers and friends alike.  But his work was awe-inspiring and brought bigger public awareness to the plight of Native Americans. 

This book re-exposes Curtis as a pioneer of the documentary. 

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

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