Curley – A Crow,1905, Platinum print.

The Mission

In 1901, Edward Curtis began the ambitious task of capturing the life and cultures of the Native American Indian through photographs and interviews. Curtis traveled from Alaska to the Southwest, photographing the Piegan, Blackfoot, Sioux, Gros Ventre, and the Cheyenne, the Hopi, Zunis, Acomas, and Pueblos, among many others. Over a period of thirty years, he photographed more than 40,000 Native Americans representing more than eighty tribes. Curtis created the first feature-length motion picture about Native American life and nearly 10,000 recordings of native speech and song. He contributed to sixteen books on the subject of Native Americans and lectured extensively.

In 1905–06, Curtis sought support for his mission by mounting exhibitions of his platinum prints in New York, Washington, and Boston. During this time he enjoyed the patronage of President Theodore Roosevelt, and financier J.P. Morgan agreed to partially underwrite the publication of his book The North American Indian. Intended to be a visual encyclopedia of Native American life through the medium of photography, this twenty-volume set was illustrated by over 1,400 photos printed in the difficult gravure process. Ultimately, it took twenty-five years to complete, bankrupting Curtis and draining him both physically and emotionally. He had already lost of the bulk of his Native American negatives to his wife in a divorce settlement. In 1930, Edward Curtis had a nervous breakdown. He died in 1952.


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