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Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis Paperback – August 6, 2013
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In the summer of 1900, Edward Curtis gave up a successful photography career to pursue a quixotic plan: to photograph all the Indian communities in North America. He quickly learned that his subjects were dying off fast, so he’d need to hurry if he was “to capture the essence of their lives before that essence disappeared.” A mountaineer, explorer, intrepid photojournalist, and amateur anthropologist, Curtis was Ansel Adams crossed with Annie Leibovitz, a willful and passionate chronicler of a people he came to love. “I want to make them live forever,” Curtis said in the early days of his decades-long mission. As Egan’s thrilling story attests, he succeeded, even though he died penniless and alone. --Neal Thompson
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*Starred Review* Before half its 20 volumes were published, The North American Indian was called the most important book since the King James Bible. When the last emerged, its director and primary researcher and author, self-made master photographer Edward Curtis (1868–1952), was old, broke, and dependent on his daughters. Though his great work consumed $2.5 million of J. P. Morgan’s money over the course of three decades, Curtis never took a cent in salary. He lost his business, his property, his marriage, and any control of his great project. But he completed it, preserving a great deal of what we know about Indian cultures, including more than 75 languages, thousands of songs and stories, traditional practices in everything from clothing to religious ritual, and the Indian accounts of such historic milestones as the Battle of the Little Bighorn. Simultaneously, he fixed the image of the North American Indian in a body of work as iconic as any created by any other visual artist in any medium. To accomplish this, he braved the remote, nearly inaccessible places where small tribes clung to their identities, painstakingly won the confidence of wary elders in many larger tribes, and wooed the titans of American wealth to keep going. Ace popular historian Egan makes Curtis’ story frequently suspenseful, always gripping, and monumentally heroic. --Ray Olson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.
The book is full of flavor and color, success and hardship, but more important, Egan, through showing us Curtis's life and his work, has brought home the devastation and loss of American's First People. Destruction and loss of their cultures has hurt every American, not just Indians. That's what I took from this book.
The epilogue was heartening, and it's also heartening that Curtis knew the value of his work, even if it wasn't fully realized until after he was dead.
Tim Egan has told a huge and important story of a man and an endeavor, for which all of us are deeply in debt. While learning of Curtis and his life's work we also learn much about American history, things we may not have known, but for which we are so much richer.
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get a long and complicated life nicely organized and it seemed the longer the...Read more