Native Americans Captured on Film

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.

A Piegan Dandy, 1900.
A Piegan Dandy, 1900.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

( Photo credit: Northwestern University Library )
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, 1903.
Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, 1903.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

( Photo credit: Charles Deering McCormick Library of Special Collections, Northwestern University )
The Fisherman-Wishham, 1910.
The Fisherman-Wishham, 1910.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.


( Photo credit: Library of Congress )
A Smoky Day at the Sugar Bowl – Hupa, 1923.
A Smoky Day at the Sugar Bowl – Hupa, 1923.

Photograph by Edward Curtis.

( Credit: Library of Congress )
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