Here’s the best book I’ve read this year, by Timothy Eagan:
Readers in doubt can check out the book on Goodreads, where there are 325 reviews, with a rating of 4.16 of 5 stars from 1,304 raters.
” 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.”- from Goodreads.
Now the PLUS- I thank my subscriber and sometimes transcriber, John Clark, for forwarding me the following information: “In case you did not know, the entire 20 volumes are archived on-line and with free access by Northwestern University. The photos are of excellent resolution and much better than the printed ones in Egan’s book.”
20 volume set? Can your local library get copies? I doubt it.–>
“A rare complete set of Edward S. Curtis’ The North American Indian was sold at auction for 1.44 million on October 4, 2012. The price was solidly in the expected range, which as previously reported was 1.25 million to 1.75 million. It was also a record high for the auction house, Swann Galleries, which held the first photobook auction in the United States in 1952. Read more.
And the background ……From Wikipedia–>
“In 1906 J. P. Morgan provided Curtis with $75,000 to produce a series on the North American Indian. This work was to be in 20 volumes with 1,500 photographs. Morgan’s funds were to be disbursed over five years and were earmarked to support only fieldwork for the books not for writing, editing, or production of the volumes. Curtis himself would receive no salary for the project[ my emphasis T.J.), which was to last more than 20 years. Under the terms of the arrangement, Morgan was to receive 25 sets and 500 original prints as his method of repayment. Only 222 complete sets were eventually published.”
So- track down a copy, fire up the wood stove ( I hope) and settle into a most incredible story- superbly written. And then, read the original ( online) and view ( photographs) of the passing of the Native cultures of America from your armchair- most amazing!