“A vivid exploration of one man's lifelong obsession with an idea . . . Egan’s spirited biography might just bring [Curtis] the recognition that eluded him in life.” — Washington Post
Edward Curtis was charismatic, handsome, a passionate mountaineer, and a famous portrait photographer, the Annie Leibovitz of his time. He moved in rarefied circles, a friend to presidents, vaudeville stars, leading thinkers. But when he was thirty-two years old, in 1900, he gave it all up to pursue his Great Idea: to capture on film the continent’s original inhabitants before the old ways disappeared.
Curtis spent the next three decades documenting the stories and rituals of more than eighty North American tribes. It took tremendous perseverance — ten years alone to persuade the Hopi to allow him to observe their Snake Dance ceremony. And the undertaking changed him profoundly, from detached observer to outraged advocate. Curtis would amass more than 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings, and he is credited with making the first narrative documentary film. In the process, the charming rogue with the grade school education created the most definitive archive of the American Indian.
“A darn good yarn. Egan is a muscular storyteller and his book is a rollicking page-turner with a colorfully drawn hero.” — San Francisco Chronicle
"A riveting biography of an American original." – Boston Globe
Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times journalist Egan (The Worst Hard Time) turns his attention to one of Seattle's most remarkable yet all but forgotten residents. In the late 19th century, Edward Curtis was the era's reigning portrait photographer, so well respected that President Theodore Roosevelt chose him to photograph his daughter's wedding. Yet in 1900, at the height of his fame, Curtis gave it up to pursue what would become his life's work "a plan to photograph all the intact Native American tribes left in North America" before their ways of life disappeared. This idea received the backing of J.P. Morgan and culminated in a critically acclaimed 20-volume set, The North American Indian, which took Curtis 30 years to complete and left him divorced and destitute. Unfailingly sympathetic to his subject, Egan shadows Curtis as he travels from Roosevelt's summer home at Sagamore Hill to the mesas and canyons of the Southwest tribes and to the rain forests of the Coastal Indians and the isolated tundra on Nunivak Island. Egan portrays the dwindling tribes, their sacred rites (such as the Hopi snake dance), customs, and daily lives, and captures a larger-than-life cast. With a reporter's eye for detail, Egan delivers a gracefully written biography and adventure story.
Well researched, informative and enjoyable to read. Perhaps we can all learn something from our deplorable treatment of people that were perceived to be less than or different from the expected norm of religious, political/financial and moral zealots. Thankfully, the pictures, movies and sound clips will be a forever reminder.
Short Nights Of The Shadow Catcher
Beautifully written, a joy to read. What a marvelous person right in our own back yard. Without Curtis their story would never have been told. He gave us such a gift.
While I have often enjoyed the haunting realism of Curtis's photographs, I will never look at them the same after this book. Curtis's life's passion and the sacrifices he made because of that passion crystallize in the pages of this book. I couldn't put it down.