Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your mobile phone number.
Other Sellers on Amazon
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
+ Free Shipping
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis Paperback – August 6, 2013
|New from||Used from|
Frequently bought together
Customers who bought this item also bought
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
Photos from the Author (Amazon.com Exclusive)
*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 the MP3 CD edition.
Browse award-winning titles. See more
If you are a seller for this product, would you like to suggest updates through seller support?
Top Customer Reviews
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.
"Some reviews of the Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher focus on Curtis, who is indeed a brilliant and poignantly ignored star. However, I felt that as you portrayed him, Curtis would have been most touched with your treatment of his respect and interactions with the Tribal peoples. He never imagines himself anything but a white man; yet in this role, he does not seem to embrace the sense of superiority that plagues the white soul. The chapter “The Most Remarkable Man” is a poignant memorial both to Curtis and Alexander Upshaw. Without undue sentimentalism or judgment, both you and Curtis have taken the reader through a journey that will never be possible again and we are painfully conscious of what has been lost. This is not to say that Curtis himself is not an exceptional man and artist, and for this reason alone, the book has significant value. The blindness of society to properly honor his work, as well as the importance of the subject, is disheartening but remarkably common, unfortunately. You have celebrated his efforts to create a grand and beautiful tome depicting these strong and complex people and cultures through photographs, recordings of their voices and songs, notation of their languages and descriptions of the their spiritual practices."
This book in multiple ways affected me deeply. I highly recommend it.
Near the end of his life, Curtis would apply another nickname to himself. "Following the Indian form of naming men, I would be termed, `The Man Who never Took Time to Play.'" He'd come up with this nickname after discussing his work habits. "It's safe to say that in the last fifty years I have averaged sixteen hours a day, seven days a week" working to complete my documentation of "The North American Indian."
Curtis was an "Indiana Jones" with a camera. Over his long and productive life he managed to take 40,000 photos using a large camera format and glass plate (14 X17 inch) negatives of Native Americans as they were disappearing from the American scene. He also recorded 10,000 Indian songs on wax cylinders, "wrote down vocabularies and pronunciation guides for 75 languages, and transcribed an incalculable number of myths, rituals and religious stories from oral history." He also transferred his music recordings to actual sheet music.
He was famous during the first part of his monumental Native American documentation. He was a personal friend of President Teddy Roosevelt and sponsored by J.P. Morgan. Curtis enjoyed great public acclaim for his 20 volume history series. He was an international celebrity. However, his 33-year project wasn't finally completed until long after its novelty with the public had vanished.
Because Curtis was a terrible businessman J.P. Morgan accepted his offer to personally work for free. Morgan only paid for his expeditions and the eventual printing of the books. Morgan eventually also ended up with all rights to Curtis's life of cutting edge work. J.P. knew a bargain when it was offered to him.
In 2009, during that deep economic recession, a single set of the 20 Volume series sold at auction for $1.8 million dollars. The value of the work was finally being realized by the public.
"Curtis was the first person to conduct a thorough historical autopsy of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, from both the Indians side and that of the cavalry." He walked the battleground with men who had actually taken part in the battle. His revelations were deemed too explosive to publish in his Magnus Opus and shelved until future generations could bear to hear the truths he recorded. He produced one of the first documentary films about the Indians titled "In the Land of the Head-Hunters." After a much-heralded début, the film was tied up in legal problems with the distributor and disappeared for 33 years. Like all of his work with Native Americans Curtis never made a dime and actually lost money on his monumental works and died dirt poor in the smog choked slums of Beverly Hills, CA. No kidding, Beverly Hills had some slums.
This highly readable, illustrated biography was one of the most enjoyable books this reviewer has read in years. As an ex-photographer, would-be adventurer, art and book collector this book's subject fascinated me. When I was traveling around the Amazon Basin in the 1960s taking photographs for National Geographic, I too loved to take pictures of Amazon Indians. However, I would not have gone one step out of my way to photograph cannibals or head hunters unless I was certain of remaining safe throughout the experience.
Curtis was a much more adventurous soul than this reviewer. He also had incredible stamina and was able to work 24/7/365 almost without sleep in locations almost unfit for human existance. He was driven by his desire to capture an important part of world history that was dying so fast he knew he'd never be able to document it all for posterity. He was constantly aware that the images and information he sought were disappearing every day and would soon be lost forever.
Curtis had discovered photography almost by accident. He later opened his eyes up to the Native Americans living in squalor in his hometown of Seattle. Although the city is named after the great chief, Seattle, Indians were not allowed to live within the city limits. Like so many photographers, he realized the need to photograph the disappearing Native American Culture because it was happening all around him and most of the population failed to see it much less care about it.
At the same time I was reading this wonderful biography that picked up speed as it progressed, I was also reading "Edward S. Curtis: Visions of the First Americans" by Don Gulbrandsen. That large coffee table book includes more than 300 photographs by Edwin S. Curtis. Many of those photographs are reproduced in the same size and format as the original glass plate negatives. If ever there were two books that should be read together as a set, these two books are they. Reading the descriptions of the struggles of taking certain photographs in Egan's excellent biography makes it much easier to better appreciate some of the nuances of the reproductions in Gulbrandsen's collection of actual Curtis images of a now vanished world.