Native Americans Captured on Film

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Timothy Egan tells the story behind the most famous photographs in Native American history—and the driven, brilliant man who made them, Edward Curtis. In Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher is a portrait of the photographer and his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared. Curtis took more than 40,000 photographs, preserved 10,000 audio recordings, and is credited with making the first narrative documentary film, creating a definitive archive of the American Indian.

Photo credit: Northwestern University Library
A Piegan Dandy, 1900.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

Photo credit: Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, 1903.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

Photo credit: Library of Congress
The Fisherman-Wishham, 1910.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

Credit: Library of Congress
A Smoky Day at the Sugar Bowl – Hupa, 1923.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.


Timothy Egan
News, weather, Radiolab, Brian Lehrer and more.
Get the best of WNYC in your inbox, every morning.

Comments [5]

How about the very interesting and controversial practice of removing "modern" elements from his negatives to achieve a heightened authenticity.

This was something that Curtis did often. Including staging ceremonies that were no longer practiced.

Great book! Very interesting topic!!

Nov. 13 2012 08:57 PM
Wayne Johnson Ph.D. from Bk

This is certainly not an original thought, but these beautiful photographs are very idealized and ignore the quotidian realities of the disastrous poverty stricken life on the reservation.

Nov. 13 2012 02:52 PM
Guest from Montclair, NJ

Mr Egan referred twice in this interview to Bird having "spoken the language" and how helpful this was to Curtis. Which language, exactly? Native peoples did not have one language that everyone used. There were many peoples and many languages.

Nov. 13 2012 01:40 PM
Ron from Brooklyn

Never found the 'slide show' of the Curtis Images - promised by Leonard.
Where is it?

Nov. 13 2012 01:27 PM
Laura Mac from NYC

I love Timothy Egan's columns in The NY Times- always read them first thing and forward on to my family on the west coast. Always nails it exactly when it comes to politics.

I'll look forward to reading this book.

Nov. 13 2012 01:20 PM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.