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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis Hardcover – October 9, 2012
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Timothy Egan's book gives a detailed, balanced look at Curtis's life and his life's work: Publication of a 20-volume look at American Indian communities in the early 20th century. Just thinking about such a venture makes me tired, but Curtis was tireless (hence the "short nights" in the title -- he rarely slept). The series would include not just photographs but a lexicon preserving languages, and in the making of this Curtis would make film and audio records of songs and ceremonies that would have been lost forever.
His ambition seems quite unrealistic, almost delusional, to someone from present day. Traveling thousands of miles with bulky photographic equipment, in unmapped territory without the benefit of conveniences we take for granted -- GPS, airplanes, cell phones, overnight delivery, fax machines. He and his team made a photographic and textual record that has never been equalled, and probably never will be. And during this time he made a movie and developed a stage presentation that wowed even the most sophisticated audiences.
Even if you're not particularly interested in photography or American Indians, Egan's book is fascinating as a look at the early 1900's, movers and shakers, people like J. P. Morgan and Theodore Roosevelt. Egan's writing is brisk, his descriptions evocative. It never bogged down, even when things weren't going well for Curtis.Read more ›
Alas, I had never heard of Edward Curtis, (`Tis embarrassing to say), a/k/a, "The Shadow Catcher," an apt name for a photographer. Sure, there were Joseph Stieglitz, and Ansel Adams, brilliant photographers, both, but in terms of life achievement, Curtis at least equaled, and perhaps even surpassed them. I had seen his photographs before, for example, the seven horsemen in the Canyon de Chelly, but it took Egan to make me realize the whole. With the death of his father, at a youthful age, he became the principal support of his family. They moved to Seattle in the late 1800's. He became successful in the new medium of photography, operating the studio that catered to the "rich and famous," in a new boom town. And that could have been that.Read more ›
That's Mick Gidley, a professor of American literature, as quoted by Timothy Egan near the end of this exhaustive, gripping look at the life of photographer Edward Curtis.
M. Scott Momaday, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his novel House Made of Dawn, lauded Curtis for capturing the Indians of North America "so close to the origins of their humanity, their sense of themselves in the world..."
Egan's "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher, The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis," makes a clear case that the accolades are justified.
You will recognize many if the iconic pictures Curtis captured. Woman and Child, 1927. Geronimo--Apache, 1905. Many more. And perhaps, like me, you never stopped to think too long about the work required to produce them. "Short Nights" fills the gap.
Egan traces Curtis from his first picture in Seattle (1896), when he was no crusader for Indian rights. "Curtis wanted pictures. Indians their treat rights, political autonomy and property disputes--all of that was somebody else's fight. Politics. Injustice. Blah, blah, blah. Who cares? The exchange between photographer and subject was purely a business proposition..."
That view doesn't last long. Curtis' empathy grows as he finds his way inside a variety of Indian cultures. In the end, Curtis took 40,000 photographs, recorded 10,000 songs, captured vocabulary and pronunciation guides for 75 languages and a documented an "incalculable number of myths, rituals and religious stories from deep oral histories."
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is a terrific biography of Curtis that weaves in and out of the fabric of U.S.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I grew up in Seattle and the surrounding areas, so reading this was reaching back into a history that was different than the history taught in school (no surprise there). Read morePublished 3 hours ago by Sharon Routledge
This is a spellbinding piece of literature that also happens to be an important and rarely told element of our collective history.Published 6 days ago by ted klinkenberg
This is a must read........surprising ups and downs in the popularity of this remarkable chronicler of many tribes of native Americans. He even recorded their languages.Published 7 days ago by Mary Lane Sullivan
Another excellent Egan book. All of Tim's books have a novel-like quality to them, but they are factual and quantitative. Read morePublished 8 days ago by Loren
If you want to have your heart totally broken, if you want to get a glimpse of what it's like to be conquered, your religion and traditions become outlawed, your land taken away,... Read morePublished 14 days ago by gary hubiak