Saturday, October 13, 2012

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher . . .

Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis
by Timothy Egan
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. 370 pgs.  Biography.

Edward S. Curtis lost his family and his fortune, but kept his sacred honor in his unwavering quest to record the rapidly disappearing tribal life, customs, language, and lore of the American Indian at the turn of the 19th century. After Curtis photographed "Princess Angeline," the eldest and last remaining child of Chief Seattle who had become a beggar woman living in Seattle's filthy shantytown, he put his hand to the plow and rarely looked back. As a result of his single-minded sacrifice we now  have portraits of Geronimo, Chief Joseph, a photograph of three Indians who had been present at the Battle of the Little Big Horn and who gave Curtis the true account of what happened that day, not to mention twenty volumes of photographs and text cataloging the now-lost lives and cultures of Native Americans from the desert Southwest to Alaska. Curtis was a prophet with scarcely any honor and no wealth in his own time. His unique and irreplaceable "The North American Indian" series sold for $5,000 in his day, when it sold at all. Now each remaining set is worth millions if, indeed, any value can be placed on such a seminal and revelatory work. Egan's biography is deeply engaging and powerful, the story of the right man doing the right thing, just in the nick of time.


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